Immigrant youth protest President Donald Trump’s termination of DACA in front of the White House on March 4, 2018
Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Three House Democrats introduced a bill Tuesday which would provide permanent residency for millions of undocumented immigrant youth, as well as immigrants covered under the humanitarian programs of Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure. The proposed bill would help clear a pathway to permanent residency for an estimated 3.6 million immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, more than 300,000 TPS recipients, and thousands of Liberians protected under DED.

Titled “the Dream and Promise Act,” H.R. 6 is sponsored by California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard and New York Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Yvette Clarke. The women had attempted to advocate separately for DACA and TPS recipients in the previous Congress, but they have combined their efforts into one ambitious package.

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TPS is designated to nationals of countries that Homeland Security determines to be unsafe after a natural disaster, armed conflict, or other “extraordinary conditions,” according to the federal government. DED has no specific criteria; it is a humanitarian designation that the president is allowed to bestow through his wide-ranging discretion to conduct foreign policy. Currently, 10 countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, have TPS designations, while Liberia is the only country granted DED.

The Dream and Promise Act gives TPS and DED designees an immediate pathway to a green card. Undocumented youth who qualify are first given conditional protected status for 10 years, but have the opportunity for lawful permanent status. LPS is available if they finish at least a two-year degree or vocational program, complete two years in the military, or work for three years (as long as they have a work authorization permit for at least 75 percent of that time).

The legislation would also allow undocumented youth to apply for federal financial aid and revoke a Clinton-era policy that penalizes states that grant in-state tuition to undocumented students on the basis of residency. It also gives them conditional resident status access to professional, commercial, and business licenses, allowing them to practice in their field of choice, a regular challenge for Dreamers who pursue higher education but do not have the authorization to work after graduation despite being accredited.

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“For two years, the Trump Administration has viciously targeted some of our most vulnerable immigrant communities creating a climate of uncertainty and fear. Whether it is Dreamers who arrived here as children or TPS or DED recipients who came here fleeing desperate conditions, we need to make clear to these immigrants – our friends and neighbors – that we stand with them and they are here to stay,” Velázquez said in a statement. “I’m proud to join with my colleagues, Congresswomen Roybal-Allard and Yvette Clarke, in introducing this legislation, which would provide these communities with protections under the law and a path toward citizenship.”

The bill was also drafted with the help of advocacy groups like United We Dream.

“We consider this to be a huge visionary step forward...of immigrant communities being protected by policy solutions like this that are all about the protection and not about increasing harms via enforcement measures,” Sanaa Abrar, advocacy director for immigrant youth organization United We Dream, told Splinter.

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H.R. 6 would cancel removal proceedings for TPS and DED holders currently issued by the Trump administration. The bill also requires that the Homeland Security explain why a country’s TPS status was ended within three days of the decision.

Under the Trump administration, TPS recipients and advocates have argued that conditions in some countries, particularly Haiti, hadn’t improved enough to accept the return of their nationals living in the U.S. en masse, despite DHS secretaries terminating those countries’ statuses anyway. Memorably, Trump called Haiti and African nations “shithole countries” last year, sparking a lawsuit.

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An injunction is currently shielding nationals from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan from removal after the Department of Homeland Security ended TPS designations for the countries over the past two years, and another case was filed last month on behalf of Honduras and Nepal. However, court rulings wouldn’t give TPS holders a pathway to citizenship, Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel of the ACLU of Southern California, told Splinter. Meanwhile, DED for Liberia is scheduled to expire this month, affecting thousands of Liberians who have been protected since 2007.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is also in limbo. Last year a U.S. District Court judge ordered the government to allow DACA recipients to renew their status as litigation over Trump’s September 2017 announcement to end the program works through the courts, but the program has been closed off to first-time applicants.

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The Dream and Promise Act may have a shot at passage in the House. However, under a Republican-controlled Senate, the bill’s future is no sure thing. For United We Dream’s Abrar, that means planning a strategy focused around the House’s bill, including educating Democrats on TPS and DED holders, and on what a protections bill without enforcement and border militarization would mean for larger immigrant communities.

“Our long term goal would be that as much as we are supportive of the Dream and Promise Act, it is a step in the direction of larger comprehensive immigration reform that grant pathways to citizenship for all undocumented people without adding to enforcement agencies that harm our people, and so we’re always going to pushing for expanding the pool of individuals who would qualify under this bill and similar legislation,” Abrar said.