Pushing reform of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program through Congress will depend on Dreamers’ ability to organize, state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, said this week.
Cancela, who served as the Culinary Workers Union political director, said she hopes that Congress can pass legislation to allow an estimated 800,000 DACA recipients to legally remain in the U.S.
While attention on the DACA issue has been eclipsed recently by stories about North Korea, hurricane recovery and protests by NFL players, work has quietly proceeded in Washington, D.C., she said Thursday on “Nevada Newsmakers.”
Generally called “Dreamers,” DACA recipients have shown a talent for political organization. That should help them as Congress considers action on their future, Cancela said.
“As a former organizer — I see myself as an organizer — I know what the power of the Dreamer is,” she said. “They are one of the most organized communities, and they have been able to do what very few other groups have been able to do in this country. And that is to change hearts and minds about their issues and about the importance of what it means to be a young person who comes to this country from another county and who wants an opportunity to better their lives.”
The DACA push is there, even if it is quiet in national media, Cancela said.
“Every day there are protests and outreach happening to (U.S. representatives) and senators in hopes of moving the bill that Sens. (Lindsey) Graham and (Dick) Durbin have worked on,” Cancela said.
“As long as the push continues to get a bill done, something should happen. But it is almost impossible to predict what happens in Washington,” she said.
Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the federal government was ending the DACA program. President Donald Trump then gave Congress six months to approve legislation at allow the DACA recipients to stay legally in the U.S.
DACA recipients — those undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — could be subject to deportation if Congress does not approve a plan.
Sens. Graham, R-S.C., and Durbin, D-Ill., have reintroduced The Dream Act of 2017, yet some in a Republican-controlled Congress feel it is not restrictive enough.
A key sticking point is that it provides a path to citizenship and not just permanent legal residency.
Three Republican senators — Thom Tillis on North Carolina, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Orrin Hatch of Utah — this week introduced the SUCCEED Act (Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers Employment Education and Defending our Nation), which would establish permanent legal residency but not citizenship.
The unresolved battle in Congress about citizenship vs. legal residency helps highlight just how difficult it is to become a U.S. citizen, Cancela said. If done correctly and legally, it could take more than 20 years for an immigrant to gain citizenship, experts have said.
“What I think the DACA conversation has highlighted is the legal path to citizenship is much harder than people think,” Cancela said. “Lots of folks think that if you come to this country, eventually you will become a citizen. That is not true. We have a completely fractured system with very little recourse for folks who have come to this country and have contributed by working here, by raising their families here, by paying taxes here.”
Her thoughts were recently echoed by Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev.
“You have a lot of people saying, well, why don’t they do it the legal way?” Kihuen said on “Nevada Newsmakers” earlier this month. “And I'm sure every single immigrant who wants to come here and work hard, play by the rules and stay out of trouble, would go the legal way if there was a legal way that actually worked. But right now, you have to wait about 25 years, if you actually want to wait for the legal way.”
Cancela, who directs a program called the Citizenship Project which helps immigrant families naturalize, sees a big difference in how federal immigration officers did their job during the Obama administration and now under the Trump administration.
“The major difference in the Obama administration and the Trump administration is that the Obama administration truly prioritized criminals and those with criminal backgrounds (for deportation), whereas the Trump administration has much more of a blanket approach,” Cancela said.
“That is dangerous. It is not the kind of country that we are and not even the kind of Republican Party that existed, going back to President Reagan, who believed in family unification. I’m hopeful as a country that we can get back to a place where we can talk about families and the stability of our communities instead of criminality and deportation,” she said.
Ray Hagar is a retired political journalist from the Reno Gazette-Journal and current reporter/columnist for the Nevada Newsmakers podcast and website, nevadanewsmakers.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at @RayHagarNV.