Home Votes to Give Thousands and thousands of Dreamers and Farmworkers a Path to Citizenship
The Democratically-run House voted Thursday to pave the way for citizenship for an estimated four million undocumented immigrants and opened a politically charged debate over the nation’s broken immigration system just as President Biden faces growing numbers of migrants on the border.
In a party-political vote of 228-197, the House first sought permanent legal recourse for more than 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, including those brought to the United States as children known as dreamers and others who Temporary protection was granted status on humanitarian grounds. Only nine Republicans voted yes.
Hours later, lawmakers approved a second measure with more bipartisan support that would eventually give legal status to nearly a million farm workers and their families while an important agricultural visa program is updated. This time, 30 Republicans, many of whom represented agricultural areas, voted almost every Democrat to vote in favor.
The votes were important milestones for the dreamers and other activists who have led a decades-long campaign, often at great personal risk, to overthrow the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Dreamers, those who have temporary status, and in many cases farm workers, have long lived in the United States, and measures to normalize their status have widespread public support.
In swiftly reviewing both bills, leaders bet that singling out relatively narrow but publicly popular immigration policies could shake up a deadlocked political debate after years of failed attempts at broader immigration legislation and create a major constituency.
“This house has one more chance to pass HR 6 and end once and for all the fear and insecurity that plagued the lives of American dreamers who have become an integral part of the fabric of American society,” said the Democratic Party Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard of California and a writer on the Dreamer Act said during a highly competitive debate at the Capitol. “It’s about who we are as Americans.”
But after clashing with a wave of die-hard Republican opposition in the House of Representatives, the bills now face great opportunity in the evenly-divided Senate. While some Republicans have pledged support for dreamers there in the past, their party is increasingly joining a tough strategy to deny the president the votes he needs to pass a new immigration law and the worsening situation at the border to use as a political stick.
“Right now there is no going for anything,” South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and a key player in previous bipartisan immigration campaigns said this week.
That means immigration policies will join a growing bunch of Liberal agenda items that have passed the House but are doomed to fail due to Republican opposition in the Senate. These include a groundbreaking expansion of voting rights, new gun control measures, the most important labor legislation in decades and the LGBTQ Equal Opportunities Act.
Democrats advocating removing or changing the filibuster believe the mounting pressure behind these bills could help break the dam for changing Senate rules to get rid of the 60-vote demand to defeat litigation tactics and to pass legislation by a simple majority.
House Republicans previewed the difficult road ahead on Thursday, denouncing the immigration measures as an “amnesty” for lawbreakers. They accused the Democrats of wanting to open the borders to foreigners who would take American jobs and carry the coronavirus.
The laws passed on Thursday would have no impact on the enforcement of the borders. Republicans argued, however, that any move to grant legal status to immigrants who had entered the country illegally in the past would only fuel such migrations in the future.
“Why are so many children being placed in the hands of Mexican criminal cartels and forced to suffer the 2,000 mile trail of terror to our border? Because it works, “said California Republican Tom McClintock. “This bill proves that the Mexican crime cartels are right. You will be accepted into our country and only have to wait until the next amnesty. “
Rather than focusing on those who would benefit from the bill, Republicans have spent much of the debate bringing up Mr Biden about the troubles on the southwest border, what some Republicans have called “Biden’s border crisis.” They have moved quickly in the past few weeks to beat up the president over the growing number of migrants trying to enter the country, including many unaccompanied children, despite never criticizing Donald J. Trump for the same phenomenon during his presidency.
Republican strategists hope the issue will awaken the party base and affect enough independent voters, alarmed by their dark warnings of violence, to help their party regain control of the House and Senate in 2022.
Mr Biden’s top immigration advisors have directly recognized the scope of the challenge over the past few days. They have also asked for time to make short- and long-term changes that they hope will bring more order to a region that has plagued the last four presidents.
These include the more ambitious revision of Mr Biden’s immigration rules, the U.S. Citizenship Act, which gives legal status to almost all undocumented immigrants in the country, provides money to secure ports of entry and expedite asylum applications, expand legal immigration, and pump would send $ 4 billion to Central American countries that have sent a flood of asylum seekers north to the US border in recent years.
Douglas Rivlin, communications director for America’s Voice immigration group, said the bill remained the “North Star” for activists. But groups like his helped band together on a strategy to try to drive closer bills for dreamers and farm workers to test the water first.
“If anything is going to get 60 votes and form a coalition, it’s these two bills for deep-seated long-term immigrants and deep-rooted agriculture in many places, red states,” he said. “It allows us to see where Republicans are.”
House Democratic leaders have pledged to vote on Mr Biden’s citizenship law again this year. For the moment, however, their own members are split over this, with moderates and progressives arguing over border security regulations.
And in the Senate, Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the plan’s main sponsor, said this week he would try to determine “if we can bring enough people together to make bigger, bigger efforts.”
Progressive and pro-immigrant activists are not holding their breath. They are already urging democratic leaders to find a way to force sweeping immigration changes without the minority party, including blowing up the filibuster.
Another option they are discussing is to combine a major legalization move with a major job and infrastructure package, backed by both parties, by including laws that give millions of undocumented key workers a route to citizenship.
The immigration stalemate is nothing new to Congress. Attempts at comprehensive reform have failed under the last three presidents, even at times of greater political alignment on the Democratic-Republican issue.
It was the inaction of Congress that prompted President Barack Obama in 2012 to set up the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program to provide dreamers with temporary, renewable work permits and protection from deportation. Approximately 700,000 people signed up for the program before Mr Trump tried unsuccessfully to end it.
The American Dream and Promise Act would provide a route to citizenship and permanent legal status in exchange for higher education, work, or military service for all DACA recipients and other dreamers who have not enrolled. The bill would also include hundreds of thousands of people with temporary protection status granted to immigrants from countries destroyed by natural disasters or violence, as well as those with a similar status known as forced delayed departure, which is often extended in cases where immigrants are involved persecuted or danger if they were returned to their home country.
The Farm Workers Modernization Act addresses groups that are seldom seen or noticed by much of the public: the dozen of immigrant farm workers who grow and harvest much of the country’s food supply.
Unlike the Dreamers Act, it is the result of lengthy bipartisan negotiation and haggling with farm workers and their employers. The resulting compromise would create a program for farm workers, their spouses, and their children to gain legal status if they continue to farm and pay a $ 1,000 fine. Modification of the visa program for agricultural temporary workers to stabilize wage fluctuations and involve the dairy industry; and introduce a mandatory national e-verify program for employers to confirm that individuals are qualified for the job.
Proponents of the bill say the changes will help bring hundreds of thousands of farm workers out of the shadows, preserve the influx of migrant workers willing to do hard work that Americans increasingly will not do, and food stability The country’s promotion, which has become more urgent during the pandemic.
“The US is a country of law and order. We must keep working to reform our broken immigration laws and improve our border security, ”said Representative Dan Newhouse, Republican of Washington and a lead author of the law. “That is exactly what this legislation will do.”