“… Attempts to pass the DREAM Act, a measure first introduced in 2001 that would allow some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to eventually obtain legal status, have stretched on for years. During his tenure, President Obama backed the legislation, but Congress failed to pass it. In 2013, the Senate passed a bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, but House Republicans refused to bring it up for a vote because it lacked the support of the majority of the Republican conference. Efforts have been further complicated recently as the Trump administration, along with hardline House conservatives, push for stricter immigration measures, including slashing legal immigration, in exchange for protecting the “Dreamers.”
The array of proposals puts activists in a precarious position, forcing them to decide how much they’re willing to concede to help the “Dreamers” stay. It’s not uncommon for divisions to reveal themselves in a movement of this size and scope, as one immigrant advocate told me: “I don’t think [fractures are] surprising given that there’s negotiations ongoing right now and everyone is collectively trying to advocate for their individual provisions,” adding, “At the same point, I think the question will be where folks come together in the end.”
Last month, the White House released an immigration framework that would provide a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants, in exchange for $25 billion for border security and restricting family-based migration, dubbed “chain-migration” by some conservatives, and ending the diversity visa program. The proposals would greatly slash legal immigration levels: The libertarian Cato Institute estimated that in all, Trump’s immigration framework would bar 22 million immigrants from legally immigrating to the U.S. over the next 50 years. In the Senate, Trump’s plan fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance. But a separate measure in the House has received the president’s support: A bill by Representative Bob Goodlatte would would allow young undocumented immigrants to obtain temporary legal status and slash legal immigration levels.
Trump has insisted that he’s unwilling to relent on his “four pillars,” as he calls them, but he’s previously changed his mind about what exactly he wants in a DACA deal. While proposals to change immigration policy fell flat in the Senate, the House may take up the matter next. Advocates, for their part, are continuing to pressure Congress to pass legislation before the March 5 deadline, while considering what they’re willing to give, if anything, to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation—and how to stay united in the process.
“When I talk about unity and a movement united, it doesn’t mean carbon copy advocacy and messaging and policy,” said Cesar Vargas, the executive director of Dream Action Coalition, a pro-immigrant group. “I do mean that we all are in this together.”
To that end, pro-immigrant groups are also in the unique position of having to defend policies that benefit the segment of the population they serve and navigate around strict immigration proposals.
Take the UndocuBlack Network, an organization that advocates for undocumented black people. Immigrants from Africa are among those who have benefited from the diversity visa program, which allocates a limited number of visas to countries that don’t usually migrate to the United States. It’s in the interest of the group to ensure the diversity visa lottery stays intact.
“There is no green card shiny enough for me to justify the devastating consequences on vulnerable communities here and abroad. So we say, not in our name,” said Jonathan Jayes-Green, the director of UndocuBlack Network and a DACA recipient, in a press call last month.
UndocuBlack Network is not alone in opposing the end to the diversity visa lottery. Gustavo Torres, the executive director of CASA, a Maryland-based organization that advocates for Latinos and immigrants, said he too is against it being scrapped. “In terms of the diversity visa and the family reunification, I am not going and I’m unwilling to sacrifice these two important issues for DACA,” Torres said.
The family-reunification system, which allows close relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to legally migrate to the country, has become a point of contention for other advocacy groups as well. According to the Department of Homeland Security, in fiscal year 2017, roughly two-thirds of new green-card holders had family connections to U.S. citizens. Immigrants from Asia make up a large share of visas issued under this category. The Asian Americans Advancing Justice—AAJC, a group focused on advancing civil and human rights for Asian Americans, has made protecting the system a priority in talks with lawmakers. “When you’re talking about cuts to legal migration, that’ll hit us really hard,” said John C. Yang, the president and executive director of AAAJ—AAJC.
Karin Wang, the vice president of programs and communications for Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, cited the troubled history between Chinese immigrants and the U.S. as reason for concern. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first major law restricting immigration, barred the Chinese from obtaining U.S. citizenship and suspended the entry of laborers for 10 years. “I don’t know that [problems with ending the family-reunification system are] unique to Asian Americans, but I know for Asian Americans especially, given a very explicit history where we were valued at one point as low-wage laborers but not considered human enough to be allowed to have families and communities, this feels really relevant,” Wang said…."