Democrats seek to force vote on Dream Act

Democrats seek to force vote on Dream Act
© Greg Nash

House Democrats on Monday introduced a motion to force a floor vote on the DREAM Act, a bill to protect people brought to the country illegally as children from deportation.

Using what's known as a discharge petition, any bill can be brought to the floor without being approved first by House leadership.

Democrats need a majority of members to sign on to the petition, a proposal that even they admit is a long shot, since it would ask Republicans to go against their leadership.

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Still, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) urged Republicans to sign on, arguing that most GOP members — including Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term MORE (R-Wis.) — have expressed some measure of support for the DREAM Act.

“There's already bipartisan support to pass the DREAM Act,” said Hoyer. “Both the Speaker and the majority leader [Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)] have spoken sympathetically about the Dreamers.”

Under the DREAM Act, between 1.2 million and 1.8 million Dreamers — those people brought to the country illegally as children — would receive work permits and relief from deportation. The proposal, sponsored by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), would grant permanent legal status — and eventual citizenship — to qualified immigrants. The protections would extend to those who were younger than 18 when they entered the United States, have been living in the country continuously for at least four years and meet certain education requirements.

Different versions of the bill — after which the Dreamers were named — have been around since 2001, but President Trump’s cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program earlier this month gave the DREAM Act’s supporters an increased sense of urgency.

Trump gave DACA recipients whose current two-year permits end before March 5 until Oct. 5 to renew their permits. That means recipients eligible to renew their permits had one month to submit their paperwork and a $495 processing fee.

“That’s just not enough time,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), adding that Democrats requested an extension from Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, especially because many DACA recipients live in Texas and Florida, which were hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

But Democrats also went through legislative hoops to speed up the discharge petition, in hopes of passing a bill before the Trump-imposed DACA deadlines.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said those deadlines are creating unnecessary fear among DACA recipients and the immigrant community in general, making quick legislation that much more important.

“This is a very terrifying time for the 800,000 people we know as DACA recipients or Dreamers,” he said.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) added that in states like New Mexico, keeping DACA recipients is necessary for the economy and essential services like health care.

Lujan Grisham said Dreamers who are doctors are fundamental for New Mexico's health-care system because it's “one of the most underserved and most difficult to serve states.”

The DREAM Act is technically too young to qualify for a discharge petition until Oct. 5, because 30 legislative days must pass between the time bills are introduced and when they become eligible for consideration.

To speed up the process, Hoyer drafted a resolution earlier in the month that allows Democrats to discharge an older, related bill and swap in the Roybal-Allard/Ros-Lehtinen language.

Hoyer picked a bill introduced by Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) as the vehicle to speed up the DREAM Act.

“We cannot afford to kick the can down the road any longer,” said Kelly.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Crying on TV doesn't qualify Kimmel to set nation's gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (D-N.Y.), after dining with Trump at the White House earlier in the month, endorsed the contours of an agreement that would couple the DREAM Act protections with tougher border security measures.

But a number of liberal Democrats, wary of Trump’s tough talk on immigration enforcement, hammered the deal as a threat to millions of other immigrants living in the country illegally. They want the Democrats to use their leverage on budget legislation to move a “clean” DREAM Act that excludes the tougher security provisions.

Pelosi last week found herself in the unusual position of being shouted down by immigrant rights advocates up in arms over her strategic alliance with the president.