Biden called for a citizenship path for 'Dreamers', but to some it's more of the same talk

By Alisa Reznick
Published: Thursday, February 9, 2023 - 3:37pm

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In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Joe Biden called on lawmakers to pass legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for "Dreamers," including 600,000 recipients of the DACA.

The Obama-era program that gives some undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as kids temporary protection from deportation and a work permit, but no permanent pathway to stay and work in the U.S. 

Meanwhile, a years-long court battle has the entire program in legal limbo. Reyna Montoya is a DACA recipient in Phoenix who leads the immigrant advocacy group Aliento. She said while she knows legislation must happen in Congress, but the Biden administration's DACA efforts — from the Department of Justice's legal defense, to the federal government's ability to process applications quickly — have also fallen short. Some 80,000 would-be first-time DACA applicants are currently stuck in limbo thanks to processing backlogs and legal proceedings over the program.

She said hearing Biden’s call to lawmakers this week felt like more of the same talk without action.

"We’re talking about human beings, we’re talking about people who are stuck in the process. We need to make sure that we get solutions moving forward, rather than rhetoric that doesn’t help anyone but the political parties," she said. 

Montoya says Dreamer legislation is a bipartisan issue. But neither party has been willing to lead reforms.

"There's definitely consensus...regardless who you talk to, that there's something that needs to be done for Dreamers, like they are Arizonan, they are American, that's typically the talking point," she said. "But for Democrats, solving the Dreamer issue...doesn't go far enough. And then for Republicans, sometimes they don't want address that, without addressing asylum or border security."

As a result, Montoya said, despite calls for action, solutions at the federal level remain stagnant. Arizona voters approved a measure last year to allow local Dreamers to get in-state tuition rates for the first time in years. But in Washington,  legislation that combined border restrictions with a pathway to citizenship for Montoya and others failed to pass in Congress last year.