Momentum builds for bill to help 'Dreamers'

Momentum builds for bill to help 'Dreamers'

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are scrambling to find a legislative fix for the embattled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as it faces a crucial legal challenge.

DACA grants a work permit and protection from deportation to about 750,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

Ten states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), have threatened to challenge DACA in the courts unless the Trump administration cancels the program by September 5.

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The Trump administration has not said if it will defend the program in court. 

Concerns that the program could be terminated by the administration or court ruling has led to a flurry of legislative proposals over the last two weeks designed to protect immigrants under the program, commonly known as Dreamers, through legal status or a path to citizenship if the program ends.

House Democrats presented the American Hope Act Friday, garnering 117 co-sponsors within the Democratic Caucus, so far.

And in a bipartisan move, earlier this week, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Lucille Roybal Allard (D-Calif.) presented a new version of the Dream Act, a bill that was first presented in 2001.

It's similar to a bill presented in the upper chamber by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTop Louisiana health official rips Cassidy over ObamaCare repeal bill Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-S.C.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill MORE (D-Ill.).

A bill presented by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) in the House in March, the Recognizing America's Children (RAC) Act, is gaining support among centrist Republicans.

"There's an added urgency to deal with the Dreamers. As you know there's all these lawsuits out there now," said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a co-sponsor of the RAC Act.

In order to apply for DACA, potential beneficiaries were forced to register with the government, admit to being in the country illegally, and pass a background check.

That process has supporters of the program worried that the administration could turn that information into a deportation list if the program is ended administratively or by the courts.

"The administration has said they don't want to deport them, but the reality is if those lawsuits happen and succeed, then these are folks that have registered, so they're in a really precarious situation," said Díaz-Balart.

Trump renewed the program in a June memo but cancelled two other Obama-era executive orders on immigration, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and an expansion of DACA.

Both of those programs were previously halted by their courts, so Trump's decision didn't directly affect any immigrants.

But immigrant-rights activists are making it a priority to protect DACA, and are pushing administration officials to weigh in on a legislative fix to protect Dreamers.

The appeals targeted John Kelly as Homeland Security secretary. Kelly on several occasions expressed his support for Dreamers while also questioning the legality of the program. But Kelly never supported any specific bill and was named Trump's White House chief of staff Friday, replacing Reince Priebus. 

Before the Senate bill was unveiled, a White House spokesman said the administration had not supported earlier bills and was unlikely to do so.

"The fact that the president indicated he wouldn't sign it means to the secretary that it's not a viable option," said David Lapan, Kelly's spokesman, Tuesday. "[Kelly's] not going to support any legislation that’s not going to become law."

Still, Ros-Lehtinen and Roybal Allard unveiled their bill in hopes of sparking debate in the House.

Democratic Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis GutierrezHouse Dem: We’ll shut down the government if House doesn’t pass Dream Act Dems rip leaders' deal with Trump for ignoring DACA Rep. Gutiérrez arrested at White House immigration protest MORE (Ill.), a vocal advocate on immigration, has proposed his own bill, the Hope Act.

"Defense [of Dreamers] includes putting legislation that charts a way forward," said Gutiérrez at a press conference Friday.

Gutiérrez added he would support any of the bills put forward if they kept in place protections for DACA recipients and other young immigrants in similar situations.

Between 750,000 and 800,000 people have received DACA benefits and a Migration Policy Institute study found over one million people would benefit from the House version of the Dream Act.

Supporters of the bills insist they would pass if they received a floor vote.

"This doesn't have to be complicated," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). "The speaker makes the decision on what gets voted on, on the floor."

"I am confident that if the speaker makes a decision to put this bill on the floor we have time to debate it and pass it," she added.

A spokeswoman for Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Ryan: Americans want to see Trump talking with Dem leaders Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Wis.) said any bills would have to make it through committee first.

Curbelo said it's his priority to convince the Republican Conference to bring a bill protecting Dreamers to the House floor.

"It's one of my goals for this Congress," Curbelo told The Hill earlier this month.

But it's unclear if lawmakers will be able to coalesce around any one bill.

Díaz-Balart said having multiple bills is a good first step.

"It's good to have markers out there. I think I have an idea as to how maybe we can get something done -- it is going to require that the stars line up," said Díaz-Balart.

"I think there may be opportunities, hopefully this year, to actually see some legislation take place," said Díaz-Balart.