U.S. Houses passes bill to protect DREAMers

by Bamidele Ogunberu Posted on June 7th, 2019

Washington: The House on Tuesday passed the American Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for more than 2.5 million undocumented immigrants who face deportation under Trump administration policies.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, HR6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, would help around 2.7 million, of an estimated 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants, receive green cards. The bill calls for the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice to end proceedings against aliens who entered the US as minors.

The bill cancels and prohibits removal proceedings against certain aliens and provides such aliens with a path toward permanent resident status.

The Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice shall cancel removal proceedings against certain aliens who entered the United States as minors and grant such aliens conditional permanent residence status for 10 years.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill would most likely not receive a vote in the Senate.

Chants of “USA. USA. USA” echoed through the House chamber upon passage of the bill. The measure passed 237-187 largely along party lines in the Democratic-controlled House, but the measure is not expected to go anywhere in a Senate where Republicans hold the majority.

Republicans have made clear they will only support such expansive protections for those known as “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, if billions of dollars in border security and other changes to the nation’s immigration system are also part of the legislation.

But the vote allows Democrats to stake their claim in the immigration debate just as the 2020 campaign season gets into full swing. And it gives some hope to “Dreamers” that their decades-long fight for permanent legal protections may one day become reality.

More than a year ago, then-House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi spoke for eight consecutive hours on the House floor in an unsuccessful effort to convince the Republican-controlled House to provide “Dreamers” a path to citizenship.

On Tuesday, she was able to push the legislation through as House speaker.

The bill is about “honoring the respect for family that is the heart of our faith and the heart of who we are as Americans,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said before the vote. “We have the opportunity to be part of history, to be on the right side of history, but more importantly on the right side of the future by voting and recognizing the value of dreamers to that future.”

Many Republicans voted against the bill, not just because they said the bill does nothing to address the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border but also because it’s unfair to those who have patiently waited in line for legal status.

“This is another green light to those who want to come here seeking freedom from the place they currently are, which I sympathize with. I understand,” said Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “But either we have a way to get into our country legally or we don’t.”

The idea of protecting the group has been floating through Congress since 2001, when Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, first introduced the DREAM Act. Over the years, various versions have been introduced in Congress, and one passed the House in 2010 under Pelosi’s leadership, but it didn’t reach the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate.

President Barack Obama set up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012 to protect immigrants brought to the U.S. as children after Congress was unable to agree on a grand immigration deal.

The bill passed on Tuesday is one of the most expansive versions yet, protecting a large group of “Dreamers,” as well as other undocumented immigrants who have been the target of the Trump administration. That includes protections for:

  • Some 674,000 “Dreamers” who qualified for the Obama-era DACA program. President Donald Trump tried to end the program in 2017, but federal judges have blocked him from doing so in a confrontation that may end up before the Supreme Court.
  • An additional 1.5 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children but did not qualify or apply for DACA, according to an estimate compiled by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.
  • More than 400,000 recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program that has allowed foreigners to legally live and work in the U.S. while their home countries recover from armed conflicts and natural disasters. The Department of Homeland Security has tried to phase out those protections, but has been blocked by federal courts.
  • Hundreds of Liberians who have been allowed to live and work in the U.S. under a version of TPS known as Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).

The bill would grant conditional permanent residence to all “Dreamers” for a period of 10 years. During that time, they must either graduate from college, serve two years in the military or work nearly full time. They must pass a background check to ensure they have not committed any serious crimes. If they complete all that, they can then apply for legal permanent residence (known as a green card), and then five years later apply to become a U.S. citizen.

For TPS and DED recipients, many who have already lived in the country for two decades, the bill would immediately allow them to apply for legal permanent residence.

Immigration activists applauded the House’s action.

“We showed the country that it is possible to pass legislation that protects people without hurting” others, said Greisa Martinez, a “Dreamer” and deputy executive director of United We Dream, an immigration advocacy group.

Image: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi attends an event introducing the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 in Washington, D.C., on March 12, 2019. The legislation creates a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) beneficiaries and immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).

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