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GOP lawmaker proposes bill to grant residency for Salvadoran immigrants

GOP lawmaker proposes bill to grant residency for Salvadoran immigrants
© Greg Nash

A House GOP lawmaker who has positioned himself as a centrist on immigration issues has unveiled legislation to grant permanent legal residency to certain immigrants from El Salvador and other countries who had been given temporary protected status.

Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanGardner gets first Dem challenger for 2020 Senate race The 5 most competitive Senate races of 2020 10 things we learned from the midterms MORE’s (R-Colo.) bill would end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program while authorizing permanent legal residency for qualified current enrollees.

The introduction of Coffman’s legislation comes after the Trump administration announced earlier this week that it would end the TPS designation for more than 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador who have lived in the U.S. since at least 2001.

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Salvadorans were the largest group of immigrants under TPS, but the program has also allowed immigrants from countries like Honduras, Haiti and Nicaragua fleeing from natural disasters or war to come to the U.S. The Trump administration previously announced plans last year to end the protections for Nicaraguans and Haitians as well.

“This legislation will help those who have been living and working in the United States, under TPS for many years, to have a legal status that would give them a path to legal permanent residency and remove the fear of deportation,” Coffman said.

TPS protections were granted to eligible Salvadorans after a pair of 2001 earthquakes in the country. The country has one of the world’s highest homicide rates as a result of gang violence. Salvadorans with TPS status now have until September 2019 to obtain legal residency or leave the U.S.

At the same time, Coffman is proposing to eliminate the TPS program for future immigrants. He argued that people from impoverished countries are unlikely to want to return after receiving temporary status to live in the U.S.

“We need to help people with humanitarian aid where they are instead of having them come to the United States. This program was a really bad idea from the start and is completely unrealistic in thinking that, once here, they would be willing to return to their home countries where conditions may have improved but are still nowhere near the living conditions here in the United States,” Coffman said.

Coffman’s bill would extend the TPS status for current enrollees for three years. Qualified enrollees could apply for permanent legal residency before the end of the three-year period and undergo a background check.

The legislation makes another trade-off for giving thousands of TPS enrollees permanent residency: it would reduce the number of available future green cards starting in 2022 by 50,000 annually in order to avoid increasing the level of legal immigration.

Discussions over TPS have since become part of the bipartisan negotiations for an immigration deal that would stop the deportation of young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children and enhance border security.

The Trump administration is phasing out the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that granted temporary work permits for qualifying young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. DACA recipients will face deportation if Congress doesn’t act by March 5.

Coffman represents a district with a large Hispanic population that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonComey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony Clinton among VIPS attending pre-wedding celebrations for daughter of India’s richest man Comey’s confession: dossier not verified before, or after, FISA warrant MORE won in 2016, making him one of House Democrats’ top targets in this year’s elections. Coffman has staked out moderate positions on immigration in recent years after his district’s lines were redrawn to include more Hispanic constituents.
 
He had previously endorsed a bill to end birthright citizenship and voted against the DREAM Act in 2010 that would have given young undocumented immigrants legal status.  

When the Trump administration announced its decision to end DACA last fall, Coffman announced that he would make the exceedingly rare move of trying to force a vote on his bill that would temporarily extend the program’s protections.

Coffman filed a discharge petition for his bill, a tool typically used by the House minority party to bring attention to legislation blocked by the majority party leadership. Discharge petitions need at least 218 signatures to trigger a House floor vote and are rarely successful.

Members of the House majority hardly ever endorse discharge petitions, much less launch them.

But days later, Coffman dropped the effort after making an agreement with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection hacking will come to a ‘breaking point,’ says Dem strategist Webb: GOP must play prevent defense The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — George H.W. Bush lies in state | NRCC suffers major hack | Crunch-time for Congress MORE (R-Wis.) to hold off on gathering cosponsors as lawmakers began discussing a long-term DACA fix.

Coffman told The Hill at the time that he would take up his discharge petition again if Congress doesn’t reach a deal on DACA by March.

“I said that I would pull back on that to see how [Ryan] would do. What he didn’t want is two efforts simultaneously that are going at the same time, his effort to try to get our bill to the floor, and my effort to try to push a discharge petition,” Coffman said.

“But if he couldn’t bring something to the floor, then I would push the discharge petition.”

Updated at 4:03 p.m.