The House voted Thursday to open a gateway to citizenship for young dreamers and immigrants who have fled war or natural disasters abroad, giving Democrats a victory in the year’s first vote on a question which again faces a sharp surge in Congress.
In a vote close to the 228-197 party line, lawmakers approved a bill providing legal status to an estimated two million dreamers, taken to the United States undocumented as children, and to hundreds of thousands of other migrants from a dozen struggling countries.
The House also votes on a second measure creating similar protections for one million farm workers who have worked illegally in the United States; the government estimates that they include half of the country’s agricultural workers.
Both bills hit a wall of opposition from Republicans insisting that any immigration laws strengthen security at the Mexican border, which waves of migrants have tried to breach in recent weeks. The GOP accused Congressional Democrats of ignoring this issue and President Joe Biden of refueling this by erasing the restrictive policies of former President Donald Trump, even though this wave started while Trump was still in power.
Prospects for House bills were grim in the equally divided Senate, where the 50 Democrats will need at least 10 GOP supporters to break down Republican filibusters. The outlook was even bleaker for Biden’s more ambitious goal: legislation making citizenship possible for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, easing visa restrictions, improving border security technology, and spending money. billions in Central America to alleviate the problems that push people to leave.
Congress has been deadlocked on immigration for years, and it once again seemed to be becoming political ammunition. Republicans could use it to rally Tory voters in the next election, while Democrats could add it to a stack of House measures that are languishing in the Senate to garner support for the abolition of filibusters which kill the bills of this house.
Democrats have said their bills are not aimed at border security but at targeting immigrant groups who deserve help.
“They are such a part of our country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Dreamers, who, like many immigrants, held frontline jobs during the pandemic. “These immigrant communities strengthen, enrich and ennoble our nation, and they must be able to stay.”
Neither of the House’s two measures would directly affect those attempting to cross the border from Mexico. Republicans critical anyway for the lack of border security arrangements and turned the debate into an opportunity to castigate Biden, who has surged in popularity since taking office and won a huge COVID-19 relief package.
“It’s a Biden border crisis, and it’s getting out of hand,” Minority Parliamentary Leader Kevin McCarthy said.
While the number of migrants caught crossing the Mexican border has increased since April, the 100,441 encountered last month were the highest number since March 2019. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the number was heading for a 20-year high.
Democrats are making this problem worse, Republicans have said, with bills they say encourage smugglers to bring more immigrants into the United States and offer amnesty to immigrants who break the laws to enter and live. in the country.
During the previous debate on the Dreamers’ Bill, Democrats said Republicans were going too far.
The House approved similar versions of the dreamers and farm worker bills in 2019. Seven Republicans voted for the “Dreamers” bill and 34 supported the farm worker measure that year.
Both 2019 measures died in what was a Republican-led Senate. Neither would have received a signature from Donald Trump, who spent his four years as president restricting documented and undocumented immigration.
By contrast, Biden has suspended work on Trump’s wall along the Mexican border, ended his separation from young children from migrant families, and allowed apprehended minors to remain in the United States as officials decide if they can legally stay. He also turned down most single adults and families.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Biden supported the two bills as “critical milestones towards much-needed relief for the millions of people calling the United States home.”
What’s in the invoices?
The “Dreamer” Bill would grant conditional legal status for 10 years to many undocumented immigrants up to the age of 18 who were brought to the United States before this year. They should graduate from high school or have equivalent degrees, not have a serious criminal record, and meet other conditions.
To obtain legal permanent residence, often referred to as a green card, they would have to earn a graduate degree, serve in the military, or be employed for at least three years. Like all other green card holders, they could then apply for citizenship after five years.
The measure would also grant green cards to around 400,000 immigrants with temporary protection status, which would allow temporary residence for people who have fled violence or natural disasters in a dozen countries.
The other bill would allow immigrant farm workers who have worked illegally in the country for the past two years – along with their spouses and children – to obtain licensed farm worker status. This would allow them to stay in the United States for renewable periods of 5 1/2 years.
To earn green cards, they would have to pay a fine of $ 1,000 and work for up to eight additional years, depending on how long they’ve been in farming jobs.
The legislation would also cap wage increases, streamline the process for employers to obtain H-2A visas allowing immigrants to work legally on farm jobs, and gradually introduce a mandatory system to electronically verify that farm workers are eligible to work. in the USA.