The House voted Thursday to unlock a gateway to citizenship for young dreamers and immigrants who have fled war or natural disasters abroad, giving Democrats a win in this year’s first vote on an issue once again facing a steep rise in Congress.
In a vote near the party line 228-197, lawmakers approved a bill offering about 2 million dreamers legal status, illegally to the United States as children and hundreds of thousands of other migrants from a dozen troubled countries.
Passage seemed imminent for a second measure that created similar protection for 1 million farm workers who have worked illegally in the United States; the government estimates that they make up half of the country’s agricultural workers.
Both bills hit the Republican wall of resistance, insisting that all immigration laws strengthen security at the Mexican border, which waves of migrants have been trying to break in recent weeks. The GOP has accused congressional Democrats of ignoring that problem and President Joe Biden of pushing for it by erasing former President Donald Trump’s restrictive policies, even though that increase began while Trump was still in office.
The house bill prospects were bleak in the evenly divided Senate, where the 50 Democrats will need at least 10 GOP supporters to break Republican filibusters. The outlook was even closer to Biden’s more ambitious goal of illegally enabling citizenship for all 11 million U.S. immigrants, easing visa restrictions, improving border security technology and spending billions in Central America to ease problems that cause people to leave.
Congress has been stuck for immigration for several years, and it once again seemed to be on the verge of becoming political ammunition. Republicans could use it to rally conservative voters in upcoming elections, while Democrats could add it to a barrage of house-passing measures that disappeared in the Senate to build support for abolishing the House’s bill-killing filibusters.
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Democrats said their bills were not directed at border security but at addresses of groups of immigrants who deserve help.
“They are so much of our country,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, of the Dreamers, who, like many immigrants, have had front-line jobs during the pandemic. “These immigrant communities are strengthening, enriching and refining our nation, and they must be allowed to stay.”
None of the house’s actions would directly affect those who tried to cross the border from Mexico. Republicans still criticized them for lacking cross-border security regulations and turned the debate into an opportunity for lambast Biden, who has been riding a wave of popularity since taking office and won a massive COVID-19 aid package.
“It’s a Biden border crisis, and it’s spinning out of control,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
While the number of migrants captured trying to cross the border from Mexico has increased since April, the 100,441 found last month were the highest figure since March 2019. Interior Ministry Alejandro Mayorkas has said the number is tracking a 20-year high.
The Democrats exacerbated the problem, Republicans said, with bills they said attracting smugglers to sneak more immigrants to the United States and grant amnesty to immigrants who break laws to enter and live in the country.
“We do not know who these people are, we do not know what their intentions are,” the rep said. Jody Hice, R-Ga., On immigrant farm workers who can apply for legal status. He added: “It’s scary, it’s irresponsible, it’s endangering American life.”
During an earlier debate on Dreamer’s bill, Democrats said Republicans went too far.
“Sometimes I stand in this House and feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone, listening to a number of my Republican colleagues who advocate white supremacist ideology to despise our dreamers,” the rep said. Mondaire Jones, DN.Y.
Nine largely moderate Republicans joined all Democrats to support the Dreamers bill.
The House approved similar versions of the dreams of dreamers and agricultural workers in 2019. Seven Republicans voted for the “Dreamers” bill and 34 supported the measure for farm workers that year.
Both measures in 2019 died in a Republican Senate. Nor would it have received the signature of Donald Trump, who spent his four years as president restricting legal and illegal immigration.
However, Biden has suspended work on Trump’s wall along the Mexican border, ended his separation of young children from migrating families and allowed arrested minors to stay in the United States when officials decide if they can legally stay. He has also rejected most single adults and families.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden supports both bills as “critical milestones toward much-needed relief for the millions of individuals who call the United States home.”
The “Dreamer” proposal would grant conditional legal status for ten years to many immigrants up to the age of 18 who were brought to the United States illegally before that year. They must graduate from high school or have equivalent diplomas, not have serious criminal records and meet other conditions.
To obtain a legal permanent residence permit, often called a green card, they must have a higher education, serve in the military or be employed for at least three years. Like everyone else with green cards, they can then apply for citizenship after five years.
The measure would also give green cards to an estimated 400,000 immigrants with temporary protected status, enabling temporary stays for people fleeing violence or natural disasters in a dozen countries.
The second bill would allow immigrant farm workers who have worked illegally in the country for the past two years – together with their spouses and children – to obtain certification of agricultural workers. It would allow them to stay in the United States for renewable periods of 5 years.
To earn green cards, they would have to pay a $ 1,000 fine and work for up to another eight years, depending on how long they have already had farm work.
The legislation would also limit wage increases, streamline the process for employers to obtain H-2A visas that allow immigrants to work legally on agricultural jobs, and introduce a mandatory system for electronic verification that agricultural workers are legal in the United States.