Senate Democrats file bill to allow DACA, TPS holders to work in Congress

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Two Senate Democrats on Tuesday filed a bill that would allow beneficiaries of humanitarian immigration programs to work in Congress.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced the American Dream Employment Act, which would allow holders of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to work paid jobs in the Capitol.

“Our government should be as diverse as the people we represent, and that includes the Dreamers and TPS holders who are part of our communities and who are working legally in Nevada and across the country,” Cortez Masto said.

“My legislation will give them a voice in our government by allowing them to directly shape the laws that impact them and their families.”

Beneficiaries of either program are allowed to live and work in the United States, but not in Congress or in the federal government — except as unpaid interns or through contractors.

“I have met hundreds of Dreamers who are giving back to their communities as teachers, nurses, engineers, civil rights advocates, and more,” Durbin said. “Many Dreamers and TPS recipients are dedicated to public service, and it makes no sense to deprive Congress of this talent pool.”

The legislation is also supported by the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association (CHSA).

“Dreamers and TPS holders contribute to the rich fabric of our nation and their experiences and skills should not be left out of the policy making process. The Halls of Congress should mirror the diversity of our nation, and like other Americans, they deserve to have the opportunity to work in Congress,” said Brian Garcia, communications director for the CHSA.

DACA allows Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors — to live and work in the United States. DACA was first instituted in 2012, and only Dreamers who have lived in the United States since 2007 are eligible.

TPS allows foreign nationals from certain designated countries to remain in the United States and work as long as the administration maintains their home country’s TPS designation.

Countries are designated for TPS when they undergo severe man-made or natural disasters. TPS designations can be as long as 18 months, but administrations can extend those designations an unlimited number of times.

Somalia, for instance, was first designated for TPS in 1991, and in January 2023 Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas redesignated the country for another 18 months.

That means there are scores of Dreamers and TPS holders who have grown up and lived a majority of their lives in the United States, in many cases without having ever left the country after their initial arrival.

Neither DACA nor TPS holders are eligible to apply for a different immigration status without first leaving the United States in a process that could take years or make them subject to bans on reentry to the country.

Still, many beneficiaries of either program go through educational and placement programs that land them in public service jobs.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with some DACA recipients. They have been interns in my Senate office, and they bring invaluable knowledge and skills to the table, but they don’t get paid,” Cortez Masto told The Hill.

“It’s all volunteer because federal law for some reason is preventing them from being able to be paid and have those opportunities in Congress. I just think it’s unacceptable.”

Immigration bills in a divided Congress are long-shot prospects, but certain areas of immigration reform have proven to have more bipartisan support.

Durbin joined with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for instance, to once again introduce the Dream Act, which would allow Dreamers to apply for conditional permanent residency.

“I look forward to talking with my Republican colleagues to get them to understand and get their support, why it is beneficial to have our Dreamers, TPS recipients who can legally work in this country working in our offices as well. There’s a way that we can do it that benefits this country really long term, and so I’m looking forward to having those conversations,” Cortez Masto said.

But Cortez Masto added that politics could get in the way of bipartisanship.

“What I think is frustrating to me is when I talk to some of my Republican colleagues, they get it. They’re willing to help Dreamers, they claim. They’re willing to help, not only Dreamers and TPS recipients — they get it — but that’s behind closed doors,” she said.

“And then when we look at legislation to actually move forward, they’re not there yet, because unfortunately, there are some in leadership that want to use the border and conflate that with Dreamers as some sort of political blunt force against Democrats. It’s outrageous.”

Cortez Masto, who has at times broken with immigration advocates to call for stricter border security measures, said her experience as the attorney general of Nevada informs her view of securing the border.

“That’s the first thing. One of the first things I did when I got here was talk to our Border Patrol, say, ‘What do you need?’ But that to me is separate from this workforce that’s already here … that has grown up in our communities that wants to stay and be the central part of a workforce that we need. We can do both of these things.”

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