On Friday many “Dreamers," or undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, were hopeful they’ll be able to stay.
President Donald Trump says he’s willing to provide nearly 2 million Dreamers with a path to citizenship, but only after big changes to border security and the country’s immigration system.
Officially, around 690,000 Dreamers enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which started in 2012 under the Obama administration.
DACA’s future was the key issue lawmakers were fighting over when the federal government shut down Jan. 20. Congress passed temporary funding and reopened the government on Jan. 22 after promising Democrats they’d take up immigration reform.
However, that money runs out February, and on March 5, so do DACA protections for an estimated 120,000 DACA recipients in Texas, including 80,000 in the greater Houston area.
Several months of fighting on Capitol Hill have meant several months of uncertainty for those DACA recipients, including Cesar Espinosa of Houston.
“The past few months have been very stressful, and they’ve been very traumatic, because everything changes hour by hour,” Espinosa said.
The University of Houston graduate and Executive Director of FIEL, a local immigrant rights group, is living the American Dream his parents were seeking when they brought him to Houston from Mexico City when Espinosa was 6 years old.
“It’s a welcome response to know the White House is at least talking about the issue and talking about it openly,” Espinosa said.
Espinosa welcomes President Trump’s proposed path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers but worries about certain requirements.
“If an employer knows that your work permit or your legal status in the United States is going to rely on them giving you a job, it can lead to exploitation,” he said.
Espinosa also worries about what the White House wants in exchange: $30 billion in border security funding, including $25 billion for a border wall, a scaled-back visa lottery system, and limits to legal immigration through close family ties.
“It’s a fantastic proposal that’s a good way to start a negotiation,” said Vlad Davidiuk, Communications Director for the Harris County Republican Party.
Davidiuk says he’s confident Congress will reach a deal that’s ultimately a win for both Dreamers and the rest of the country.
“Chain migration, visa lotteries that don’t work, a lot of these situations have to be remedied before we can solve the problem because otherwise the problem’s just gonna materialize again,” Davidiuk said.
Staff with the Harris County Democratic Party referred comment to Lina Hidalgo, a candidate for Harris County Judge.
“Those young people are the future,” said Hidalgo, whose online biography says she grew up in Colombia, Peru and Mexico before immigrating to the United States and later becoming a U.S. citizen. “I just don’t think they should be used as bargaining chips.”
If nothing happens, DACA protection will expire March 5.