A Nevada resident benefiting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program knows the challenges of living in America without deportation protection.
Erika Castro graduated from high school in 2007, almost five years before the Obama-era program for young immigrants went into effect.
“I couldn’t attend school because I didn’t have enough money to afford it,” Castro said. “DACA really changed my life because I was able to get a job that I made a livable wage and was able to pay for my education.”
The Trump administration is ending the DACA program, leaving Congress with the responsibility of passing a solution. The DREAM Act has repeatedly been proposed in Congress, but has never passed.
Republicans have advocated for conservative solutions for young immigrants, but opponents say they don’t support legislation that leaves out parents and other family members who fall outside of DACA’s purview.
“I don’t want protection for myself if it means it will be easier to profile and detain my family and others in my community,” said Castro, who is among the immigration advocates who are pushing for approval of the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act would apply to a broader range of young immigrants living in the country illegally, not just those currently protected by DACA. It has been proposed in both the Senate and House, where it has 200 cosponsors.
“For many years I never talked about my story, I never shared that I was undocumented because I didn’t have that protection,” Castro said Tuesday during a conference call with advocates. “DACA really offered me the opportunity to step out of the shadows and no longer be afraid and continue to advocate for the people that did not qualify for DACA.”
Nevada resident Karla Rodriguez Beltran, also a DACA participant, said Tuesday that DACA has given her a freedom that she’d like her entire community to have.
“DACA gave me the economic agency that I otherwise would not have been able to have,” said Beltran, Nevada coordinator for Mi Familia Vota. “It has allowed me to go to college and to really partake in society.”
Also speaking in support of the DREAM Act on Tuesday: state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas; Clark County Commissioner and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Giunchigliani; Laura Martin, associate director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada; and West Wendover Mayor Daniel Corona, whose city is in Rep. Mark Amodei’s district. They urged the two Republicans in Nevada’s congressional delegation, Sen. Dean Heller and Amodei, to support the bill.
Amodei is a co-sponsor of the Recognizing America’s Children Act, which only applies to immigrants brought to the country as children. He said one major provision of the RAC Act gets those who qualify a green card arguably faster than the DREAM Act.
“If you really want to do something for people who are defined as Dreamers, whether they’re in the program or not, you might see that some of this stuff is actually a better deal,” he said.
He said Wednesday that he’d be willing to consider joining a push to put the DREAM Act past committee and to the floor if no other solution moves forward by the end of the year.
He said he wouldn’t sign on as a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, noting changes he’d like see, such as stiffer education requirements. Amodei also said that, barring any changes or other bills that might come to the floor, he’d lean toward voting for the DREAM Act.
DREAM Act supporters are aiming for movement on the bill this year. There are 195 lawmakers signed onto a discharge petition to force the DREAM Act to the floor. Roughly two dozen more signatures are needed before the petition goes into effect. One of the lawmakers to sign on is Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., who was born in Mexico, became a citizen after his visa expired and then ran for office. Immigrants like Kihuen account for an estimated 40 percent of the immigrants living in the country illegally.
Amodei said the RAC Act and the DREAM Act are very similar, with only a few differences, such as the age requirement. RAC would apply to children who arrived before the age of 16 while the DREAM Act applies to those who were under 18 when they first arrived.
“When we talk about prioritizing, it’s like guess what, you got two bills there that are almost identical,” he said. “Now’s the time.”
Amodei said he had an immigration discussion Wednesday with officials for House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. He said he told them he wants to vote so that everybody can come out as yes or no, and then the debate can move forward.
“When push comes to shove, if I have opportunity to vote on something before the end of the year, I’m voting,” Amodei said. “I am sick and tired of trying to defend nothing when that’s not my true belief. I think I’ve been a team player ... it’s time for action.”
Amodei said he got the sense from the officials that Ryan was leaning toward moving on DACA relief before the end of the year. He said tying that to a border wall would be a mistake and isolate Democrats. In response to reports that Ryan may try to include DACA relief in a year-end spending bill, Amodei said he didn’t think that would be feasible.
“Year-end spending things are enough of a mess without trying to do non-spending things,” he said.
Amodei said Congress does not have a good track record on immigration reform, with the last major overhaul coming during the Reagan administration and a failed effort in 2013 to get a comprehensive reform bill through the House after it passed the Senate, where Heller was among the Republicans to support it.
“While I have been critical of the fact that the House has not brought much to the floor ... I sure as heck wouldn’t be critical of the failure of the House to rubber stamp anything of the Senate without taking a look at it,” he said of GOP leadership not bringing the bill up for a floor vote at the time.
A Heller spokeswoman did not return a request for comment. His previous statements have not answered whether he supports the DREAM Act, but instead pointed to his support of the BRIDGE Act, introduced in January.