Business & Lobbying

Some GOP lawmakers are battling Trump and their party on DACA

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House Republicans who represent districts with large Hispanic populations are battling President Trump over an Obama-era immigration program that shields certain immigrants from deportation.

The Republicans have sought to convince Trump to keep the program alive, and have also offered legislation that would essentially make into law the protections for young people brought to the United States illegally.

Trump is expected to announce his decision on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Tuesday. It grants temporary work permits and protection from deportation to nearly 800,000 immigrants.

Most of the Republicans challenging Trump are targets of Democrats seeking to win back the House next year and represent districts that will help determine the House majority.

The lawmakers include Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who has filed amendments to an upcoming spending package to keep DACA intact, as well as GOP Reps. Dan Donovan (N.Y.), David Valadao (Calif.), Jeff Denham (Calif.), Don Bacon (Neb.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Scott Taylor (Va.), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Dave Reichert (Wash.), Dan Newhouse (Wash.) and John Faso (N.Y.).

Six of these lawmakers wrote to Trump earlier this month imploring him to leave DACA in place until Congress can pass immigration reform.

And on Friday, they wrote to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) asking him to “work with us” to address the fate of DACA.

The most striking move comes from Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who announced he will try to force a vote on his bill extending DACA work permits by starting a discharge petition — a rare move for a member of the House majority party.

Discharge petitions are normally a tool used by the minority party — unsuccessfully, in most cases. In order to force a House floor vote, discharge petitions must get at least 218 signatures.

Coffman is convinced that a decision by Trump to end DACA would motivate enough Republicans who weren’t on board before to endorse his proposal.

While he doesn’t believe President Obama’s executive action in 2012 to create DACA was constitutional, he does want to prevent people brought to the country illegally as children from being deported. And he thinks many of his GOP colleagues would agree.

“There’s a lot of folks that, you know, it’s a tough vote,” Coffman said in an interview with The Hill. “But if given the choice of having the program suspended and young people being deported who are working here and going to school here legally, albeit temporarily, I think that’s a visual that the majority of members of Congress don’t want.”

Coffman would need to get all 194 House Democrats to sign his discharge petition in addition to at least 23 GOP colleagues.

Only 12 Republicans have co-sponsored the underlying bill he introduced with Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) earlier this year, titled the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act. The legislation would only extend DACA protections for three years to give Congress time to enact a permanent solution. 

“If the Democrats hold firm, I believe I’ll have enough Republican votes to pass 218,” Coffman said.

Democrats are still figuring out a strategy for how to respond if Trump rescinds DACA. A spokesman for Gutiérrez indicated he hasn’t decided whether to sign the discharge petition for the bill he introduced with Coffman, given that he ultimately prefers a longer-term solution.

Gutiérrez is considering another option of his own: whether Democrats should withhold votes for a spending bill later this month in exchange for securing DACA. House GOP leaders have consistently relied on Democratic votes in recent years to keep the government open.

Immigrant advocacy groups are also pushing for a longer-term fix to keep DACA instead of the three-year delay as outlined by the BRIDGE Act pushed by Coffman.

“We are glad that Coffman wants to force a vote on Dreamers. It’s a gutsy move. But he’s chosen the wrong vehicle. The BRIDGE Act is a temporary measure, and we want Congress to enact a permanent solution,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. 

Sharry pointed to an alternative bill introduced by Curbelo in March that would establish a pathway for DACA recipients and other young immigrants to obtain legal status. 

Curbelo’s legislation is somewhat more stringent compared to the most recent version of the DREAM Act. Qualifying young immigrants would have to establish they came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and lived in the country continuously since at least 2012, compared to needing to enter the U.S. before the age of 18 and live here at least four years before the DREAM Act’s enactment. 

At this point, Curbelo’s bill has only 18 co-sponsors who are all Republicans.  

House GOP leaders haven’t offered support to help advance the bills offered to shield young immigrants from deportation. Ryan pledged to conservatives before taking on his current leadership post in 2015 that he would not allow a floor vote on any immigration reform bill unless a majority of Republicans supported it.

But Ryan, a supporter of immigration reform in the past, urged Trump on Friday not to end DACA. 

“I actually don’t think he should do that, and I believe that this is something Congress has to fix,” Ryan told WCLO in Janesville, Wis.

Ryan and his GOP leadership team could move as soon as next week when the House returns into session to vote on keeping the program.

Curbelo, as well as multiple Democrats, have submitted amendments to a spending package that includes funding for the Department of Homeland Security to keep DACA in place. 

Another bipartisan amendment Curbelo has filed with Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) would allow DACA recipients to work for the federal government. A version of that proposal was originally adopted in the House Appropriations Committee, but it has been stripped out ahead of floor consideration next week. 

The House Rules Committee, which serves as an arm of GOP leaders, will meet next week to decide whether any of the amendments to prevent the Trump administration from rescinding DACA can get floor votes. 

Even if the Rules Committee granted those amendments votes, precedent suggests that they would fail. In 2015, all but 26 Republicans voted for an amendment to a Department of Homeland Security spending bill that would end DACA. A similar vote in August 2014 resulted in only 11 GOP defections.

Many of the Republicans pushing to save DACA have constituencies demanding action, and some have seen their positions evolve with changing districts.

Coffman, for example, co-sponsored a bill ending birthright citizenship and voted against the DREAM Act in 2010.

Since then, a round of redistricting resulted in his district having a 20 percent Hispanic population.

Coffman acknowledged that the redistricting led him to revise his stances. Meeting with immigrants in the country illegally who were now his constituents, he said, gave him a new perspective.

“It’s given me a better understanding about how realistically to deal with immigration reform to get to where I think we need to go, which is not very different from where I thought we needed to go from before 2013,” Coffman said. “I think we ought to be very tough on illegal immigration, but also understand that we need a transition period to get there.”

He offered an example of meeting a young constituent “who graduated at the top of her class from a local high school here” — but was unable attend the Naval Academy because she was brought to the country illegally as a child.

“There’s a special place in my heart for a lot of the young people that I’ve met that were taken here as children that I didn’t meet before,” Coffman said. “Her parents took her illegally to this country when she was just a year old from Mexico. She’d never been to Mexico, that she can remember. She grew up here, she went to school here, I think she ought to be able to stay here.”

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