Arizona Democratic lawmakers join House Democrats in co-sponsoring 'new DREAM Act'

HR 6 would put 'Dreamers' on a pathway to citizenship and make them eligible for federal financial aid

Democratic members of Arizona's congressional delegation were among over two hundred House Democrats who co-sponsored legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for thousands of immigrants. 

"Hundreds of thousands of hard working young people stand to benefit from this important bill," Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, said in a press release on Tuesday. "When our Dreamers succeed, our communities will be stronger."

Stanton's district includes the bulk of the city of Tempe. 

The proposed bill, which has not yet been formally introduced in the House of Representatives, includes proposals from previous immigration bills to protect immigrants who were brought into the country at a young age. Advocates have responded with caution, saying that it's unlikely the bill will be passed unless lawmakers scale down its demands.

The Dream and Promise Act, introduced Tuesday, comes eighteen years after the original Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or the DREAM Act, which has been re-introduced into Congress multiple times but has continually failed to pass. The DREAM Act proposed a process for immigrants brought to the country as children, or "Dreamers," that would grant conditional or eventually permanent residency in the U.S.

The new legislation would expand upon the DREAM Act by maintaining proposed rights for people affected by the bill and adding protections for immigrants with Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure.

The bill would also include a new provision to allow Dreamers to receive federal financial aid. Currently, students protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and other undocumented students cannot receive federal financial aid and are not eligible for in-state tuition in Arizona. 

"It is now up to my Republican colleagues and President Trump to support this solution, which is the least they can do after Trump heartlessly ended the programs and created this problem in the first place," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson, in a statement. 

Read more: DACA students continue to struggle following spring tuition ruling

The proposed bill has been met with cautious optimism from supporters, who fear that it is unlikely to garner enough support in Congress to pass.

"It does give you a lot of hope, but then again, I also have to think about 'okay, we also went through this with the DREAM Act,'" said Denis Alvarez, a sophomore studying secondary education and the advocacy director of Undocumented Students for Educational Equity

"It makes me really hopeful, but also a little bit scared that it'll get my hopes up and then our representatives and senators won't come through," Alvarez said. "Because it includes so much, I feel like it's going to be cut down or made narrow."

Supporters also say that the new legislation shouldn't compromise on its original proposals or come at the expense of other immigrants as it moves through Congress. 

"It's very important that this bill gets passed through the House of Representatives as it is, that there's no amendments or changes that would implement enforcement on immigrant communities," said Karina Ruiz, executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition

Ruiz, who graduated from ASU in 2015 with a degree in biochemistry, said that Democrats shouldn't accept benefits for immigrants impacted by the bill in exchange for the construction of a border wall or increased funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. 

"The fact that people are calling for more security is because those people want to deport as many immigrants and people of color as possible," she said. "So we're trying to tell Congress that it would be historic if the House passes a measure that protects immigrants without any sort of strings attached, because that's what our community deserves." 

Others said that the bill is likely to face obstruction from Republicans in Congress.

"I think the challenge we still have, at both the Arizona state level and the U.S. Senate level, and with President Trump, is the Republican willingness to demonize even DACA students as 'illegals,'" said Bill Scheel, a founding partner at Phoenix political consultancy firm Javelina, referring to recipients of the DACA program. 

Scheel pointed to previous debates over DACA and border security as an example of the difficulties future DACA-related legislation is likely to face.

"Congress offered Trump $25 billion for a wall in exchange for DACA relief. They thought they had a deal, but Trump reneged on the deal because the right wing couldn't stand to give students appropriate status," Scheel said. "To me, that says it all, that the people who are running the Republican party are not prepared to deal in good faith on DACA, either at the federal or state level."

The bill has several conditions that individuals must meet to qualify for protection, including that they must be in the U.S. for four years before the enactment of the bill, they must arrive in the country before turning 17, and they must have a clean criminal record.  

Even if the bill doesn't pass in its current form, it could reflect a sharper focus by the Democratic Party on immigration reform, Scheel said.

"Polls show overwhelming public support for giving DACA students full legal status and even strong support among many Republican voters," he said. 

Ruiz said that the resolution and other recent legislation, such as Senate Bill 1217, could signal changing attitudes toward immigrants in Arizona.

"People have been able to get to know us and meet us ... we're making relationships with them and they can see that we present no threat," Ruiz said. 


Reach the reporter at Vandana.Ravikumar@asu.edu and follow @vandana_rav on Twitter. 

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