June 4, 2019

House passes immigration bill to protect ‘dreamers,’ offer a path to citizenship

The House on Tuesday passed a bill that would offer a path to citizenship to more than 2 million undocumented immigrants, including “dreamers” who were brought to the United States as children.

The vote was 237-to-187 for the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would grant dreamers 10 years of legal residence status if they meet certain requirements. They would then receive permanent green cards after completing at least two years of higher education or military service, or after working for three years.

Cheers erupted in the chamber when the bill got the necessary votes along with chants of “yes we can.” Only seven Republicans broke ranks to join all 230 Democrats present in backing the bill.

The measure would provide long-awaited clarity to the millions of dreamers who have been caught in legal limbo amid years of partisan maneuvering on the issue. The Obama administration granted work permits to many of them through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but President Trump ended the program in late 2017. Its fate rests with the Supreme Court, which may take up the issue in the coming months.

Democrats are proposing the bill as Trump and Republicans argue that more needs to be done to address the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, underscoring that the parties are approaching the issue of immigration overhaul from markedly different perspectives.

Freshman Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), the son of Eritrean refugees, prompted cheers and a standing ovation from Democrats as he quoted former president Ronald Reagan to defend immigration as integral to the fabric of America. He also described dreamers as “young people all across our country who know no other home but the United States.”

“We can’t allow these young people to continue to live in fear, to be at risk,” Neguse said.

Versions of the bill have been introduced in Congress over the years but never passed despite support among members of both parties. The debate over the legislation has been emotional at times; in 2010, more than 60 young people crowded into the Senate gallery to push for passage of a previous version of the bill known as the Dream Act. The chamber ultimately defeated the measure.

“This is legislation that is consistent with who we are as Americans, as an aspirational people, as a nation of immigrants and as a place where people can come to pursue the American Dream,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the lead sponsor of the current bill, noted that Tuesday will mark “the first time the Dream Act will be passed by a chamber of Congress as a top Democratic priority.”

The House measure was introduced in March. That same month, two groups of senators introduced similar legislation that would protect dreamers. One bill was authored by Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). The other was introduced by a group of Democrats, including Sens. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Tim Kaine (Va.).

House Democratic leaders on Tuesday voiced optimism that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would bring up the legislation in the Senate.

“There should be nothing partisan or political about this legislation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a news conference where she was flanked by other Democrats and supporters of the measure. “We are proud to pass it, we hope, in a bipartisan way.”

But it is unlikely that the Senate will consider the bill: McConnell and other Senate Republican leaders made no mention of the bill at their weekly news conference Tuesday afternoon.

The measure’s consideration comes more than a year after the Senate rejected four competing immigration proposals. Among those proposals was one backed by Trump that included citizenship for dreamers, billions of dollars in funding for the president’s U.S.-Mexico border wall and changes to laws to speed up deportations, as well as sharp cuts to legal immigration.

As the 2020 presidential race heats up, Trump has taken a host of actions — such as declaring a national emergency over his border wall and threatening tariffs on imports from Mexico — that suggest that immigration will be a central focus of his reelection campaign.

House Republicans contended Tuesday that Democrats have not offered a proposal to pay for the legislation, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would cost more than $30 billion.

They also argued that the bill does not include funding for border security or reforms to U.S. asylum laws, an issue that Trump emphasized in a White House memo in April proposing fees for those applying for humanitarian relief.

“If Democrats were serious about immigration, they would do something about the humanitarian and national security crisis along our southern border, but Speaker Pelosi has chosen to spend the House’s time on H.R. 6, an expensive, partisan show vote,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said in a statement.

Rep. Douglas A. Collins (Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said that his party wants to provide legal status to DACA recipients, but “we want to do it the right way — to minimize fraud, ensure criminals cannot get legal status and bolster border security.”

“Sadly, Democrats are making us consider a bill to worsen the border crisis by incentivizing more people to cross our borders illegally in hopes of getting a piece of the amnesty pie,” Collins said. “No doubt at this very minute, the smuggling cartels are getting the word out: Congress is going to legalize millions.”

In addition to dreamers, Tuesday’s bill would offer protections to people with temporary protected status, which has allowed people from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and other countries to avoid being deported to nations engulfed in war or affected by natural disasters.

A smaller group of Liberians that has been granted “deferred enforced departure” also would be protected. Trump also has sought to end these protections, spurring lawsuits that halted at least one of the efforts.

Immigrants with temporary protected status or deferred deportations could immediately apply for green cards if they have been in the country for at least three years, had their status as of September 2016 and pass background checks. Five years after obtaining a green card, members of both groups could apply for citizenship.

Washington Post