Op-Ed by Rep. Adriano Espaillat
Last month marked the ninth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. And since its inception, the program has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth across the country.
But for four years, we had to defend DACA from incessant xenophobic attacks.
Not just from the Trump administration, but from Republicans in Congress and countless states around the country that wished to dismantle this program from the bottom up, leaving our undocumented youth stranded and at risk for deportation.
As a formerly undocumented immigrant who came to this country as a child, this fight has been personal to me.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 96 percent of DACA recipients were employed or enrolled in school, slowly but surely entering our workforce pipeline to become our future educators, health care professionals, lawyers, innovators, public servants and community leaders.
Nearly 25 percent of recipients also have children who are U.S. citizens, and without swift, decisive action, these families will remain at risk of being torn apart.
The fact of the matter is this: DACA has been a game-changer. But despite its success, we’ve failed to sign into law a permanent legislative fix for undocumented immigrant youth.
Since Trump’s first attempts to end DACA in 2017, DACA recipients and DACA-eligible youth have been living from court decisions to court decisions begging for a semblance of stability, and immigrant communities around the country have continued to plead for real change.
But, even after 25 long years of inaction on passing immigration reform, these DREAMers, many of them also essential workers, deserve security, and above all, a real pathway to citizenship.
And budget reconciliation will be the only way to do it.
In a perfect world, the Senate would have long ago eliminated the filibuster, an anti-democratic relic of Jim Crow that requires a super-majority to pass nearly all legislation.
Such action would have allowed Democrats, with a clear electoral mandate, to break the decades-long stalemate and actually deliver for our most vulnerable.
But Republicans have shown us time and again that they will not be satisfied until millions of immigrants are put on a path towards deportation — holding citizenship hostage, and blocking permanent protections that the vast majority of the American people support.
We know that as recently as this past April, a bipartisan group of senators has been holding immigration talks to explore the possibility of finally passing long-awaited immigration reform legislation.
If these negotiations fail to prove fruitful — which, as it appears, may be attributed to our Republican colleagues refusing to negotiate in good faith — we will be forced to turn to the one tool we have left.
Budget reconciliation, a process that provides a narrow path to passing some types of legislation with a simple majority, offers a path forward.
And it is not unprecedented for reconciliation legislation to include immigration reforms, either. In fact, a Republican-controlled Senate did it in 2005 when changes to immigration policy were included as part of a larger budget reconciliation package.
Currently, the House-passed legalization measures reach upwards of $40 billion over 10 years. That means that a future pathway to citizenship for the more than five million unauthorized immigrants, many of whom being essential workers, would pass muster as having a significant budgetary impact — a necessary test for legislative items to be considered through this process.
For far too long, more than 11 million immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, have waited in limbo and faced numerous obstacles along the path to legal status and citizenship — and as the only formerly undocumented member of Congress, I know this journey well.
I also speak from experience when I say that becoming a United States citizen is the realization of hard work and dedication to realizing a dream for a better life.
But, we can’t forget: DACA remains the floor, not the ceiling when it comes to protecting our immigrant communities.
That’s why I believe that we should use every tool in our legislative and parliamentary toolbox to provide a real pathway to citizenship while Democrats hold the majority in both chambers of Congress and have a president of our party in the White House. And that includes using the budget reconciliation process.
The path forward is clear, and if Republicans continue on their tirade of obstructionism, we will be left with no other choice but to move forward unilaterally — for the people.
Representative Espaillat is the first Dominican American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and his congressional district includes Harlem, East Harlem, West Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Washington Heights, Inwood, Marble Hill and the northwest Bronx.
First elected to Congress in 2016, Representative Espaillat is serving his third term in Congress. Representative Espaillat currently serves as a member of the influential U.S. House Committee on Appropriations responsible for funding the federal government’s vital activities.
He is also a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), where he serves as the Second Vice Chair and is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, where he serves as Deputy Whip.
Representative Espaillat also currently serves as a Senior Whip of the Democratic Caucus.
To find out more about Rep. Espaillat, visit online at https://espaillat.house.gov/.