House Democrats introduced legislation last week that would offer a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers,” Temporary Protected Status recipients and Deferred Enforced Departure holders nationwide. The Dream and Promise Act promises permanent residency and citizenship for nearly 4 million immigrants in the U.S., and roughly 33,000 on Long Island.
“The stereotypes that have been painted of these hardworking people are vehemently unfair and unfeeling,” said Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove and a co-sponsor of the bill, “and we can be so much better as a country by embracing these folks, bringing them out of the shadows and encouraging their full participation in our society.”
The bill was introduced by Representatives Nydia Velazquez and Yvette Clark, Democrats from Brooklyn, on March 12. It has been signed by more than 200 members of the House, and received support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, enacted in August 2012, protects those who were brought to the U.S. as children. In 2017, President Trump announced his intention to end the program. Its constitutionality is still to be decided in federal court. Title I of the Dream and Promise Act addresses provisions and requirements to protect so-called Dreamers.
If the legislation were to pass, immigrants would be granted conditional permanent resident status for 10 years if they:
• Have been in the U.S. for at least four years before the bill’s enactment;
• Were 17 or younger when they entered the country;
• Are not inadmissible on certain grounds (crime, terrorism, student visa abuse);
• Have not been convicted of a federal or state offense;
• Have graduated from high school or obtained a GED’
• Have passed security and law enforcement background checks.
The bill would require those seeking lawful permanent residency status to earn a degree in higher education, complete at least two years of military service or be employed for at least three years. The bill would also repeal Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which penalizes states that grant in-state tuition to undocumented students; allow Dreamers to access to federal financial aid; ensure that those with conditional permanent resident status can access permits; and allow those who are eligible for residency but have been deported by the Trump administration to apply for relief from abroad.
Glen Cove resident Nelson Melgar, a DACA recipient from Honduras, addressed the program’s “limbo” status in the courts. “We live in this uncertainty,” he said, “and something like the Dream Act represents for me an opportunity to continue being an active participant of this society and finally lead a life with dignity.”
“If nothing is done about DACA,” Melgar added, “I stand to lose everything.”
Melgar said that the new bill differs from other pro-immigration legislation because it addresses TPS recipients as well as Dreamers and would provide immigration relief. But even if the bill were to pass, he said, immigrants would still face a variety of challenges to attain citizenship, such as paying government fees and finding proper representation to help prove their case.
“The community faces a number of risks due, in part, to misinformation and a lack of information, resources and guidance,” Melgar said. He added that he planned to host a community forum with the North Shore Hispanic Civic Association to address changes in immigration law and what is being proposed, and to bring in professionals to answer people’s questions.
“It’s the first time they’re bringing us, Temporary Protected Status recipients and Dreamers, together,” Glen Cove resident Jose Salinas said in his native Spanish, referring to the new bill.
TPS was established by Congress under the Immigration Act of 1990 as a humanitarian program. Its basic principle is that the U.S. should suspend deportations to countries that have been destabilized by war or catastrophe. TPS was granted to El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras after the countries were devastated by natural disasters in 1999 and the early 2000s.
When Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the cancellation of TPS in December 2017 and July 2018, Jose Salinas and his wife, Carmen, began advocating for TPS holders.
The Salinases said they were thrilled to hear about the new legislation. “This is what we need to move forward,” Jose said. “We are finally seeing the fruits of our labors in the last year, so this bill is joyous. [Elected officials are] taking us into consideration.”
Carmen said that the bill would give them what they have been advocating for — a pathway to citizenship. It would also affirm that immigrants in the TPS program have been properly admitted to the U.S., and grant lawful permanent residency to TPS and DED recipients. The bill would also cancel all removal proceedings so long as recipients had been in the U.S. for three years before its enactment, and were eligible for TPS or had DED status as of September 2016.
The bill would also amend current TPS law, requiring Nielsen to explain the agency’s decisions to terminate TPS designations. The report would include an explanation of a country’s TPS designation and any progress made by that country to resolve the issues leading to its designation. The report would also describe methods the agency used to assess whether or not a TPS country’s conditions had improved.
For the Salinases, the bill would mean staying united as a family and finally planning for the future, while acknowledging the challenges ahead. The greatest hurdle, Carmen said, would be the legislation’s path through the Republican-controlled Senate.
If they finally became lawful, permanent residents and were given the opportunity to pledge allegiance to the American flag, Carmen said, she and her husband would find ways to become more active in their community. They were also excited about the prospect of voting.
“Our roots are deep here,” Jose said. “We work so much, and we are loved here because of our dedication to our work.”
To read the Herald's TPS series, click here.