Senators Propose Legal Status for Young Immigrants

Bill includes work authorization for three years

By Roy Maurer Dec 14, 2016

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced legislation temporarily protecting young, undocumented immigrants from deportation and providing them with work authorization for three years.

The proposed Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act would essentially preserve the legal work status of the 740,000 beneficiaries of President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which incoming President-elect Donald Trump has said he would revoke. 

Launched in 2012 through an executive order, DACA provided deportation relief and work permits to undocumented immigrants who were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, and came to the U.S. before their 16th birthday.

Trump pledged during the presidential campaign to repeal the executive action that created the program.

[SHRM members-only Q&A: How Do I Hire a Foreign National to Work in the U.S.?]

The bill would also protect those who are eligible for DACA but haven't yet applied, said legislation co-sponsor Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "Temporary protection under the BRIDGE Act would ensure that these young people can continue to work and study and be protected from deportation while Congress debates broader legislation to fix our broken immigration system," he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also co-sponsoring the bill, agrees with Trump that the executive action that birthed DACA is unconstitutional and should be repealed. "However, I do not believe we should pull the rug out and push these young men and women—who came out of the shadows and registered with the federal government—back into the darkness," he said.

Experts believe that the proposal could have a tough time getting through the GOP-controlled Congress and that many lawmakers will be waiting for a signal from the Trump administration before taking up the issue.  

"The prospects for the bill becoming law are uncertain," said Angelo Paparelli, a partner in the business immigration practice group at Seyfarth Shaw, based in New York and Los Angeles. "Preliminary indications are that the president-elect will cancel the DACA program but will not revoke grants of deferred action status, or work or travel permission. Thus, existing DACA holders are likely safe to the extent they have unexpired deferred action status and work and travel permits."

Paparelli said that there are reasons to be optimistic about progress on the issue. Trump and Congress may be motivated to put this contentious issue behind them, and the anticipated DACA program expiration period would give them the "time and space to engage on immigration reform and other legislative initiatives," he said. "Or, the BRIDGE bill could get entangled with the heavy lift of comprehensive immigration reform."

For his part, the president-elect has softened his tone on DACA since the election. He told Time magazine in an interview published Dec. 7 that "We're going to work something out that's going to make people happy and proud," referring to the DACA program. "They got brought here at a very young age, they've worked here, they've gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they're in [limbo] because they don't know what's going to happen."

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