Barack Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on June 15, 2012. It was supposed to be a stopgap measure to provide relief to undocumented immigrant youth after Congress had failed repeatedly to pass a DREAM Act to make lawful status available to them.

Despite the fact that the Democrats have introduced at least 11 versions over the last 20 years, Congress still hasn’t passed a DREAM Act — and DACA just had its tenth anniversary

Missed opportunity

The Democrats could have passed a DREAM Act without a single Republican vote when Obama was president: From January 2009 to January 2011, the Democrats held the majority in the House, and until Scott Brown’s special election in 2010, they had enough votes in the Senate to stop a Republican filibuster. Even then, they only needed one Republican vote.

Why didn’t they take advantage of this opportunity?

And why have the bills they have introduced when they needed Republican support been written in a way that made it unrealistic to expect such support?

Too much

The DREAM Act of 2021 is a good example

It would make legalization available to migrants who have been physically present in the United States continuously since Jan. 1, 2021, were under the age of 19 when they entered the United States, and have continuously resided in the United States since their entry.

They can have a criminal record so long as they are not inadmissible under specified criminal or national security grounds.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, this would make lawful status available to approximately 2.7 millionundocumented immigrants, not counting the family members they likely would bring into the country when they acquirepermanent resident status or citizenship.

And the Democrats didn’t stop there. They included provisions that would make lawful status available to 393,000Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Enforced Departure participants, and 190,000 “Legal Dreamers” (migrants brought here legally as children who are aging out of their lawful status).

The bill would have been much smaller — and much more likely to pass — if it had been limited to migrants with situations similar to that of DACA participant, Eddie Ramirez.


Published initially on The Hill.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an Executive Branch Immigration Law Expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow him at