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Two Immigration Bills Clear House as GOP Cite Border Surge (1)

March 19, 2021, 12:16 AM

The House passed two bills Thursday to provide a path to legal status for millions of undocumented people living in the U.S. -- part of Democrats’ scaled back plans for immigration reform as a surge of migrants at the southern border puts pressure on the Biden administration.

Nine Republicans joined all House Democrats to pass the Dream and Promise Act, H.R. 6, on a 228-197 vote, which would provide green cards and the prospect of eventual citizenship to young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers. The House also approved, 247-174, another bill to provide legal status for migrant agricultural workers, with 30 Republicans voting in favor.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has adopted a piecemeal approach to immigration, lacking the votes for President Joe Biden’s more comprehensive proposal. But even the narrow bills on the House floor Thursday face a tougher sell in the Senate where they would need the support of at least 10 Republicans under the chamber’s current rules.

There has long been bipartisan support for the Dream Act, first introduced 20 years ago, although Republicans say such protections should be paired with tougher border security. Pelosi on Thursday described the potential beneficiaries of the measure as people who “have lived and worked in our country for decades, if not their entire lives.”

Yet immigration has become an increasingly fraught political issue and one that the GOP will try to use against Democrats in next year’s midterm elections. Republicans on Thursday criticized the timing of the legislation, as illegal border crossings have spiked in recent weeks.

“Bringing an amnesty bill to the floor this week in the middle of a total crisis on our southern border not only is tone deaf, but is wrong,” said Texas Representative August Pfluger, one of the Republicans who went to the border Monday. “This bill will only incentivize more illegal crossings. What a week to put this bill to a vote.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday mocked the House for acting on legislation that doesn’t address the recent increase of people detained at the border, noting that the Biden administration called in the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with the surge during a global pandemic.

“Are they leaping into action to repair the crisis?” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “No -- they’re taking up an amnesty plan that would create a special new pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants working in certain industries.”

Republican Representative Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida said she voted for the Dreamers legislation -- even though GOP leaders urged no votes -- to send a message that her party is willing to help fix the immigration system. Still, she called the legislation “just posturing” by Democrats.

“It’s not the perfect bill,” Salazar said after the vote. “I want to send the right message to the Democrats that I’m willing to work with them. Let’s see now if they are going to work with us.”

QuickTake: ‘Dreamers,’ DACA and Biden’s First Try on Immigration

Shortly after his inauguration, Biden proposed an immigration overhaul plan to provide a pathway to citizenship for roughly 11 million people living illegally in the U.S., bolster assistance to Central American countries and ease immigration for people fleeing violence. Republicans declared the proposal, which did not include any added resources to secure the border, dead on arrival.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said this week that Biden’s comprehensive plan would have a tough time passing in this Congress -- and even the House’s piecemeal measures are in doubt in the Senate. He said that’s especially the case now that GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Durbin’s partner on a Senate version of the Dream Act, is demanding it be combined with changes to asylum policy.

Earlier: Republicans Head to Border to Press Biden on Migrant Surge

The Dream and Promise Act would help more than 2 million people now in the nation illegally. It would give conditional green cards and work authorizations -- and a path to citizenship -- to young Dreamer immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and meet criteria similar to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It would provide similar options for eligible foreign nationals whose home countries are unsafe because of an armed conflict or natural disaster.

Nine House Republicans broke ranks to join Democrats in support of the Dream Act. Aside from Salazar, they were: Don Bacon of Nebraska; Carlos Gimenez and Mario Díaz-Balart of Florida; Fred Upton of Michigan; David Valadao of California; Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania; Dan Newhouse of Washington State; and Chris Smith of New Jersey.

There was more bipartisan support for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R. 1603, which would provide temporary status for certain agricultural workers. It would create a pathway for workers to get a green card by paying a $1,000 fine and engaging in additional agricultural work, depending on how long they’ve had jobs on U.S. farms. It would also streamline the process of getting a temporary visa for farm work and require electronic employment verification.

Pennsylvania Representative Glenn Thompson, the ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee, said he was voting for the bill, but he hopes the Senate would improve it to better resolve the shortage of legal workers for the nation’s ranchers, farms and dairies.

Senators Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, and Mike Crapo, an Idaho Republican, applauded House passage of the farm worker bill and said they would work together to introduce companion legislation in the Senate. They added that they want legislation that “appropriately addresses the needs of both the industry and the farmworkers that uphold it.”

(Updates with Bennet and Crapo planning Senate bill, in last paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story:
Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;
Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net

Anna Edgerton, John Harney

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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