The federal government will accept some DACA-renewal applications that arrived past the deadline because of postal issues.
PHOENIX — Three former heads of the Department of Homeland Security told Congress in an open letter Wednesday that immigration legislation to protect "dreamers" is urgently needed to avoid triggering large-scale deportation problems and disruptions to the economy.
The letter — signed by Michael Chertoff, who headed the agency under President George W. Bush, and Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson, who headed it under President Obama — says the issue involving the legal status of nearly 700,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children needs to be resolved sooner than its official March 5 expiration date.
"The realistic deadline for successfully establishing a Dreamers program in time to prevent large scale loss of work authorization and deportation protection is only weeks away, in the middle of January," the former secretaries wrote.
The letter comes as Congress tries to assess what to do about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections conferred by executive order by Obama and ended by President Trump, who called for a legislative fix instead.
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The issue is part of the broader immigration debate that has roiled Washington for a generation. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is part of a Senate group trying again to broker a deal on the dreamers.
The former secretaries note that people are already falling into an uncertain legal status and that it will escalate to 1,200 per day in March. That creates a problem for businesses as well, they said.
"Over 90 percent of DACA recipients are currently employed,” the letter says. “Every week of delay means thousands of new DACA recipients losing work authorization, negatively impacting the business community by creating uncertainty for all business employing DACA recipients.
"DACA recipients work in every sector of the U.S. economy. Congressional delay past the next few weeks will force the employers of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients into a state of instability, in which they have to plan for losing these critical employees.”
DACA and dreamers: How we got here
Opinion polls have long suggested that most Americans want to protect 'dreamers,' the young undocumented immigrants who have spent most of their lives in this country. But those protections have been slow to materialize. Consider the timeline:
2001: The first Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (Dream) Act — the legislation that gave 'dreamers' their name — is introduced to offer a path to citizenship for immigrants who were brought here illegally as children. It fails, as do subsequent versions.
2010: The Dream Act of 2010 gets closer than previous attempts to passing but dies in the Senate. It offers a path to citizenship if young immigrants complete two years of college or serve in the military and complete a background check, among other requirements.
2012: As immigration reform stalls, President Obama creates Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). It offers dreamers a renewable two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit.
2013: Arizona sues Maricopa Community Colleges to stop offering lower in-state tuition for DACA recipients. An appellate court sides with the state in 2017; colleges vow to appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.
2014: Obama attempts to expand DACA, but states successfully sue to block the expansion.
2016: Donald Trump promises to end DACA as a candidate but later softens his language on dreamers.
2017: Trump issues an executive order to ramp up deportations after taking office. Some DACA recipients are deported.
2017: Attorneys general threaten to sue if Trump does not rescind DACA. The president sets a 2018 expiration date for the program, despite pleas from some Republican lawmakers and business leaders to wait, and calls on Congress to pass a fix for dreamers.
2017: A revised, bipartisan version of the Dream Act is introduced, but no action is expected to come on it before the end of the year. The bill offers permanent legal status to dreamers who enroll in college, join the military or find a job, among other requirements.
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