Biden meets with DACA recipients to highlight push for immigration overhaul

President Biden outside the White House.
Immigration reform has been largely left on the back burner while President Biden has dealt with the pandemic and pushed for legislative action on an infrastructure package.
(Associated Press)

President Biden met Friday with six immigrants who benefited from an Obama-era policy that protected those brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The president is trying to turn attention toward overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, but it’s an issue on which he has made scant progress in the first months of his presidency.

Maria Praeli, one of the immigrants who participated in the meeting, said she and others spoke candidly to Biden about their concerns that their fates could be upended by a Texas court decision if Congress doesn’t act.

“Our lives have been in limbo for far too long,” Praeli said. She was brought to the U.S. from Peru when she was 5 and is now government relations manager at the immigrant advocacy group


Immigration reform has been largely on the back burner while Biden has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic and pushed for legislative action on a massive infrastructure package.

The immigrants who were invited to Friday’s Oval Office meeting have legalized their residency under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, instituted in 2012. Biden renewed his call for Congress to codify DACA and to approve legislation that would establish a pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, an effort that faces tough odds in a closely divided Congress.

The complaint sought a response from immigration authorities to the applications that 84 “Dreamers” submitted nine months ago.

The White House said in a statement that Biden reiterated to the group his commitment to immigration reform. He noted his support for legislation that has passed the Democratic-controlled House to enshrine the DACA program in law and for a separate bill intended to help migrant farmworkers attain lawful status and better working conditions.

Ahead of the meeting, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki challenged the notion that immigration has slid as a priority, noting that Biden has continued through the early days of his administration to have conversations with top aides on strategy to push the issue forward. She added that Biden viewed meeting with individuals helped by DACA — a program that has widespread, bipartisan support among the American public — as a chance to highlight an area of immigration reform that has a measure of agreement among many Republicans.

“He believes there’s an opportunity to move forward on areas where we agree,” Psaki said.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in March that his agency was issuing a rule to “preserve and fortify DACA,” but the policy faces a Texas court challenge that could invalidate the protections established under President Obama.

President Trump tried to phase out the program; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that Trump could end it but that he did so improperly.

Biden has made clear that legislation enshrining DACA should be the minimum for action on immigration. “If you don’t like my plan, let’s at least pass what we all agree on,” he said in his address before the joint session of Congress last month. “Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally secure protection for ‘Dreamers’ — the young people who have only known America as their home.”

There’s been little sign of progress on Capitol Hill.

A bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) appears to have hit a stalemate, with only halting progress despite weeks of private meetings.

Immigrants are America’s job creators. The Dream Act alone could create 1.4 million jobs and add $329 billion to the economy.

A more narrow, House-passed measure focused on DACA and another bill to revamp rules for farmworkers has almost zero chance of passage in the Senate.

It’s a familiar political standoff, as Republicans are focused on problems at the border, while Democrats want to consider changes to the immigration system.

Ali Noorani, president and chief executive of the National Immigration Forum, said the meeting with the DACA recipients is a positive development. Still, he said he’s hoping the issue will receive greater attention once lawmakers get beyond negotiations on the infrastructure package.

Biden has set a soft deadline of Memorial Day for finding the contours of a deal with Republicans on infrastructure.

“The sense here is that you get past infrastructure, the next immigration meeting on the couch in the Oval Office should be a bipartisan set of senators,” Noorani said.