Published on: Feb 03, 2018, Last Edited: Feb 03, 2018
In January 2018, the White House shut down due to a dispute over the budget and the apportioning of government funds. Whilst shutdowns are not unheard of for any US government (in 2013, the government shut down under the Obama Administration due to a dispute about Obamacare legislation), what is notable about this shutdown is that it has been brought to bear directly on USA immigration policy and thus has become a key item of USA visa news. This is because the group of immigrants known as Dreamers have been right at the centre of debate between Republicans and Democrats during the shutdown.
In late 2017, the Trump Administration announced its plans to end the programme entitled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This programme enables immigrants who arrived illegally in the US as children to continue living there into adulthood provided that they fulfil certain key requirements (for example, the absence of a criminal record). That means that, even though they arrived in the country without a valid USA visa or similar documentation, they will not be deported. These immigrants, popularly known as Dreamers, are able to renew their status every two years. In 2017, the Trump Administration announced plans to end the DACA programme and deport Dreamers already living in the USA, thus causing significant distress and disruption in the lives of adults who very often had not called any other country their home. This decision would effect around 700,000 - 800,000 Dreamers currently living in the US (a small proportion of what could be around 3.6 million people who arrived to the USA with documents under the age of 18). The Democrats opposed this decision, and now have been using the shutdown as an opportunity to cause the Trump Administration to back down over their opposition to the DACA programme.
The Obama Administration repeatedly floated proposals to grant the Dreamers US citizenship. However, each time, the motions were voted down. Proponents of further support for the Dreamers argue that this group of immigrants is per se contributing greatly to the US economy and to US society. For example, it is a condition of participation in the DACA programme that a Dreamer possesses a valid work permit, so the Dreamers are working members of US society. In addition, they adduce that participants in the DACA programme must hold a high school diploma or equivalent in order to qualify for Dreamer status. Currently, around 35% of dreamers (according to a survey conducted in 2017) hold a college degree. Bearing in mind that the average age of a Dreamer is 24, many of them will not yet be old enough to enter college, so this figure will continue to rise. One of the policies that some Democrats have been pushing for during the shutdown is not just abolishing the proposed decision to eliminate the DACA programme but actually granting citizenship to Dreamers. Currently, Dreamers cannot participate in visa waiver programmes such as the ESTA (ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization), and they also do not hold a typical USA visa, though they do have work permits and after passing certain checks can apply for driving licenses and study in the US. Could we be seeing a new USA immigration policy that recognises the Dreamers' contribution to society and grants them citizenship?
The Trump Administration had initially protected Dreamers from deportation until September 2017, however almost all USA immigrant groups (not just Dreamers) have been reporting an intensification of intimidation against them under the Trump Administration. Considerable pressure is being placed on the Democrats and on Republican senators too by ordinary citizens to guarantee, and improve, the status not just of Dreamers but of all immigrants to the US. On January 23rd, the shutdown was ended when the Republicans promised to debate the status of DACA programme recipients. The Democrats accepted this promise of a debate. Many political commentators on both sides of the debate have argued that even if the first shutdown has been resolved to everyone's satisfaction in the Senate, a second shutdown could swiftly follow it.
With the debate over DACA migrants pending in the Senate, there will be new items of news to follow. We are committed to providing you with up to date information regarding the latest pieces of visa and ESTA news in the USA, so keep on checking back to find out how the debate pans out and what the latest developments are for Dreamers.