For years, Republicans in the House of Representatives effectively blocked any bill that expanded immigration.
But now that Democrats are the majority in the lower chamber, they’re aiming to put pressure on the Republican-controlled Senate to act.
A group of Hispanic Caucus members unveiled legislation Wednesday that ties a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers — young immigrants who entered the country without authorization as children — and Temporary Protected Status holders together. About half of Dreamers were protected from deportation by a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, while TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras, Sudan and Haiti recently received an extension, allowing them to live and work legally in the U.S. until January 2020.
The Trump administration has tried to end both programs, though their future is tied up in the courts. Democrats say tying Dreamers and TPS recipients together in the same bill, along with a program called Deferred Enforced Departure, or DED, that currently gives immigrants from Liberia legal status, provides the best chance of passage.
Democrats said that bundling the three immigration programs together, instead of pushing for their passage separately, gives them the best chance to pass something and also puts the lesser-known TPS and DED statuses in the same legislation as the more widely known DACA program.
“Remember, it was not too long ago that comprehensive immigration, a bipartisan piece of legislation, passed the Senate, a piece of legislation that many did not believe would pass,” said assistant Democratic leader Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico. “These provisions were in that larger package. This is a smaller package than what was originally adopted. This piece of legislation can pass and it can receive bipartisan support.”
South Florida is home to thousands of TPS recipients from Haiti, and lawmakers from both parties are pushing to expand the program to Venezuelans, given the ongoing humanitarian crisis. The House Judiciary Committee, a body that includes South Florida Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, held a hearing on the bill Wednesday, the first official step to get legislation passed.
But House Republicans are not supportive of the legislative effort on TPS and DACA.
“The immigration status quo isn’t sustainable, and it’s certainly not compassionate,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the top-ranking Republican on the committee. “Democrats have offered talking points but no plans.”
Democrats control the House, so the leadership-approved bill announced Wednesday will likely receive a vote and pass in the coming weeks. Then it heads to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it is unlikely to receive 60 votes.
The Senate voted down a series of immigration bills in 2018, including a plan backed by the president that would extend a path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants in exchange for cuts to legal immigration, while a bipartisan plan to extend a path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants in exchange for $25 billion in border security received 54 votes, nowhere near the 67 votes needed to override a potential veto from President Donald Trump.
A minority of House Republicans also tried to pass an immigration bill with the support of Democrats last year, but were blocked by their own party’s conservative wing.
Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck said the DACA-TPS bill is not a serious policy proposal by Democrats and criticized them for inviting DACA recipients and TPS holders to testify before Congress.
“Today’s witnesses are pawns in a tragic open border strategy being pushed by the left,” Buck said. “The American people are compassionate but they are frustrated.”
Lujan said there’s “broad support” for a pathway to citizenship for DACA, TPS and DED recipients, and that tying the three together does not hinder the chances of passage.
“There’s broad support for both initiatives as well,” he said. “The urgency of being able to get these pieces of legislation adopted, and not leaving out either group, is going to be critically important in getting this done.”
But Trump’s opposition to any bill that provides a path to citizenship for immigrants without significant concessions for his border wall and potential constraints on legal immigration is the major obstacle. He recently declared a national emergency at the border as he seeks to direct about $5 billion of money allocated to the Department of Defense to partially fund a wall, a move that has irked Democrats and some Republicans.
New York Rep. Nydia Velazquez, the sponsor of the combined TPS-DACA-DED legislation, argued that the results of the 2018 election will force Trump to negotiate with Democrats.
“Mr. President, there is a new game in town with a Democratic majority,” she said.