By Paromita Shah, Guest Columnist
On June 4, the House of Representatives passed the Dream and Promise Act, a bill that seeks to bring much needed relief to recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status. Before the vote, two versions of House Resolution 6 existed. Unfortunately, the one that passed with thunderous applause by Democrats is polluted with damaging provisions that undermine the promise and dream of the proposed legislation.
The first version of the bill, introduced on March 12, largely adhered to the directive of being visionary and progressive. Pundits posited that a Democrat-controlled House should pass a strongly progressive version with few changes because of the certainty that harsh enforcement measures would be added in a Republican-controlled Senate. Many wondered if a bill could survive in the Senate without huge enforcement trade-offs. Either way, it’s sound strategy to focus on passing a progressive “marker” bill from the start.
Instead, the Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee of the House debated a different version of the bill on May 23. This new version added on many new–and unprecedented–grounds of exclusion for people who apply for Dream Act that criminalize immigrant youth.
Under the new bill, the following classes of people could be excluded from Dream Act relief:
1) People with juvenile adjudications: Under immigration law and criminal law, juvenile adjudications are not convictions and should not carry immigration consequences. The juvenile system is designed to be rehabilitative rather than punitive. Immigration law and policy has long recognized this distinction. But under the Dream and Promise Act, anyone with a juvenile adjudication that landed them in a secure facility and that hasn’t been expunged from their record―such offenses could include truancy or breaking curfew―could be banned from applying for legal status and forced to leave the U.S.
2) People who fall within a broad category of “public safety” threats. Being designated a public safety threat does not require a criminal conviction and gives DHS the power and authority to make a decision about who is a threat.
3) People whom the Department of Homeland Security labels as participating in gang offenses. This provision is one of the most controversial. Emerging data shows that criminal legal policies related to suspicion of gang affiliation has led to systemic profiling and over-policing of black and brown youth. Under this provision, people who are believed to be involved in actions that further a gang’s activities can be excluded from this bill.
Taken together, these exclusions utilize a “guilty until proven innocent” approach and will force applicants to repeatedly prove that they do not fit within the criminalizing labels placed on them just to get access to waivers or the new and untested review procedures.
Advocates working at the intersection of immigration and criminal law argue that these provisions are gross overkill given that our immigration laws are already draconian and punitive. Community groups, like Chispa and Youth Justice Coalition, working for criminal justice and immigration reform argue that the justification for these exclusions are rooted in a poisonous narrative of racialized fear of black and brown immigrant youth. They will compound harsh barriers to relief if an applicant has had any contact with the criminal legal system without accounting for the systemic inequities which result in the over-policing, profiling and labeling of black youth and youth of color.
Ironically, these provisions never existed in previous Dream Act versions. The exclusions are complicated and circuitous; the waivers are hard to understand and difficult to meet. Most importantly, instead of being progressive and visionary, Democrats passed legislation that sets a low benchmark for immigration relief bills moving forward.
But you wouldn’t know it by OC “Blue Wave” congressional members who marked the occasion with praise.
“All Americans should be proud of H.R. 6’s passage–it improves public safety, stimulates our economy, and ends the shameful practice of using people’s immigration status as political leverage,” said Congressman Harley Rouda (D-48), in a statement. “This bill is only the first step in fixing our broken immigration system.” Congressman Gil Cisneros (D-39) told constituents he couldn’t be prouder of the bill’s passage.
Only a handful of Democrats raised concerns on behalf of immigrant youth who would be subject to these broad and expansive provisions. It’s a certainty that Republicans will add even more harsh enforcement provisions to the bill in the Senate. When it comes to OC, we need a frank discussion about the real impacts young immigrants living in more than a dozen gang injunction zones will feel as a result of these provisions, about the promise and opportunity destroyed by gang databases in Chicago and across the country, and about real leadership that doesn’t dispose of young black and brown lives.
Paromita Shah is a long time advocate and lawyer working at the intersection of criminal and immigration law. She works at Just Futures Law.