In the years that President Trump has led from the Oval Office, there have been significant changes to former President Obama’s policies. One of the changes being to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known by many as DACA. This program, which allowed children who were brought to the United States before the age of 16 by undocumented immigrant parents to apply for deferred status and remain in the United States, was formally rescinded by Trump in 2017.
Under the current policy, for a DACA-eligible immigrant to gain deferred status to continue to stay in this country, they cannot have a felony conviction, a significant misdemeanor conviction, or three or more misdemeanor convictions. They must also pose no threat to national security or public safety. These eligible immigrants are referred to as “Dreamers.” However, under the current policy, there was no path to legal residency or ultimately citizenship.
Democrats have authored a bill to be considered by the House that would affect the process of gaining permanent residency for Dreamers and the conditions that would disqualify them from completing the process. Part of the new bill allows Dreamers to be deported if they have a felony DUI offense, three or more misdemeanor offenses, or if their DUI record can be interpreted by the Secretary of Homeland Security to be a threat. Although this is the main focus of the bill, there is also a section in the bill that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant waivers for undocumented immigrants in regards to up to two DUI misdemeanors being counted against them if they have not had similar convictions in the 10 years leading up to their application for legal status. On the flip side, the Secretary may also deny someone’s legal status with one DUI offense if that offense leads to the belief that the person can be considered a public threat.
Supporters of this bill feel that it would be hypocritical for Congress to hold the Dreamers to a different standard than themselves. There have been several members of Congress who have a history of DUI and, for them, apologies seemed to have sufficed to allow them to continue in their positions. Examples of current members include Texas Representative Kevin Brady who pled no contest to a DUI charge in 2005, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo who pled guilty to DUI in 2013, and former Rhode Island Representative Patrick Kennedy who pled guilty to DUI in 2006.
Opposition to the bill feels that this new bill does not consider the severity of DUI convictions. Ohio Representative Chabot was quoted, “We should not be passing laws which shield drunk drivers from removal or reward them for their dangerous conduct by fast tracking them to get a green card.”
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York feels that “people make mistakes and laws and policy decisions should reflect that. [They are] no more or no less a public safety threat than a member of Congress who has a DUI conviction from several years ago.” Nadler continued, “This legislation is intended to recognize reality, that these people are Americans, that they are Americans in every sense except for a piece of paper, and to say, to imply, there’s one standard for members of Congress with a DUI conviction and another … where a single DUI can automatically expel them from the country is wrong.”
As an immigrant myself with permanent residency I agree that it does seem unfair to judge a person from a past DUI conviction when that mistake was just that; a mistake. Although I agree that society as a whole should be well aware of the seriousness and consequences of driving under the influence, setting a different standard for those children who had no say in coming into this country to begin with and have known no other home but this country, seems to be unfair. Obviously, if a Dreamer racks up multiple DUI, misdemeanor, or felony convictions, then at that point they would start to pose a threat to society, and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security might have cause to deny legal status. Whether the bill passes or not, let’s hope that even the prospect of the bill becoming law is enough to deter Dreamers from getting behind the wheel while under the influence.