House Passes Bill to Legalize More Than 2 Million Immigrants
Legislation to provide legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants passed the House on a vote of 237 to 187.
The Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6), introduced in March by Democratic Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), Nydia Velazquez (N.Y.), and Yvette Clarke (N.Y.), would legalize more than 2 million young, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
It also would provide lawful status to immigrants covered by temporary protected status and deferred enforced departure, immigration programs for foreign nationals whose home countries are unsafe because of an armed conflict or natural disaster.
The vote largely went along party lines, with seven Republicans voting in favor of its passage. No Democrats voted against it. Nine members didn’t vote.
This bill is “a product of decades long advocacy, grit, and compromise,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, said. “There is widespread, bipartisan support across the country for protecting DREAMERS and passing the Dream and Promise Act.”
The bill cleared the House Judiciary Committee May 22 after being marked up as two separate bills.
Prior to today’s vote, Republicans submitted multiple amendments to curb eligibility for legal status that were rejected. Those amendments sought to exclude immigrants who have been convicted of misdemeanor firearms violations, misdemeanor DUI offenses if the conduct injured or killed another person or they had multiple DUIs, gang members, and immigrants who fraudulently represented citizenship, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) said during debate.
According to Lofgren, however, the bill would disqualify any individuals convicted of a felony or more than two misdemeanors, as well as authorizing the Secretary of Homeland Security to deny individuals who pose a threat to public safety, or are proven to be part of gang activities, a path to legal status.
First Passage in Six Years
The June 4 House floor vote is the first time in years that major immigration legislation has passed either chamber of Congress. In 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration measure that later died in the House. That bill would have provided legal status to a broader segment of the undocumented population.
The Dream Act has repeatedly been introduced in Congress since 2001, but never passed. The bill last passed the House in 2010 but stalled in the Senate.
Lawmakers have taken a couple of stabs at similar legislation since the Trump administration announced in September 2017 that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA, which provides protection from deportation and work permits to a more limited group of young, undocumented immigrants, was launched by the Obama administration in 2012 in the wake of Congress’ failure to pass the Dream Act.
Attempts at dreamer legislation, which in some cases was combined with border security measures or cuts to legal immigration, failed in both the House and Senate.
The latest iteration of the legislation is supported by some members of the business community. In a letter to House members, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said “it is long past time for Congress to address America’s broken immigration system. While H.R. 6 is not a complete solution, it would address two very important issues: Dreamers and the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program.”
“Allowing these individuals to be able to obtain permanent legal status is not only good for businesses and the economy, but it is the right thing to do,” Suzanne P. Clark, senior executive vice president at the Chamber, said.
Path Forward Unclear
It’s unclear what will happen to H.R. 6 in the Senate. Two bills that would protect the same groups of immigrants have been introduced in that chamber, but there’s been no action.
And unless Senate Republicans make some changes to the bill, it won’t make it past the president’s desk.
The Trump administration “strongly opposes” H.R. 6, according to a June 3 statement of administration policy. A standalone legalization bill only will encourage more illegal immigration, the White House said.
Instead, any legalization program also should include funding for border security, the wall, and asylum fixes, and should make the legal immigration system merit-based and focused on high-skill immigration, it said. “Rather than sending a signal that will invite more people to illegally enter our country, the Administration urges the Congress to focus on real solutions to address the problems within our immigration system,” the statement said.
A representative for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Courts Quelled Political Urgency
Political considerations surrounding dreamers may change if the DACA program actually appears on the verge of termination. Political pressure to take action has waned as multiple federal court orders have kept DACA largely intact.
Four separate legal challenges to the administration’s decision to end DACA remain pending before the U.S. Supreme Court after the administration filed an appeal in November 2018. The justices haven’t decided whether to take up the issue despite a May 24 administration request that they decide ahead of the court’s summer recess, a request the court refused.
Immigrants covered by TPS and DED—who also would gain legal status under H.R. 6—are in a similar situation.
Federal court orders thus far have prevented the Trump administration from ending TPS for roughly 400,000 nationals of El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan. A challenge to the administration’s decision to end DED for some 11,000 nationals of Liberia also was filed, but President Donald Trump extended the program until March 2020 before a federal judge had a chance to weigh in.