Fresno Dreamer hoping to stay in the United States, the only country he has ever known
Democrats in the Hispanic Caucus have competing ideas on how to tackle comprehensive immigration reform, and one of the biggest questions within their party is whether they’ll work with Republicans at all.
The results of those discussions will determine whether Congress even attempts a significant bill to settle the immigration status of millions of young people who were brought to the country illegally as children, or to address narrower questions about farmworkers and other employment-based visas.
Democrats last week unveiled their signature legislation on Dreamers, people brought to the country illegally as children. It would give 2.3 million of them a path to citizenship following President Donald Trump’s decision in 2017 to rescind their protected status, according to a nonpartisan estimate.
But the sweeping legislation probably won’t go anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Dreamers will also be included in a comprehensive immigration bill Democrats plan to unveil later this year, but key Democrats have competing fundamental ideas on how that legislation will proceed.
They can work with Senate Republicans and the White House to develop a compromise package that has a shot at becoming law.
Alternately, they can put forward a bill that has no chance of passing the Senate, but lays out Democratic priorities on immigration. Supporters of that approach say it could help the party gain seats in 2020, which would give Democrats a better chance to shape the law to their liking.
Some Democrats think they can both compromise with Republicans and accomplish Democratic priorities on immigration — a reflection of the effort Republicans tried last year that failed abysmally when they controlled both chambers.
Last year, as Republicans tried to push their version of immigration reform, House Democrats quickly stopped supporting the effort when they were not given seats at the table. That measure failed in the House and was never taken up in the Senate.
Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, D-Whittier, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force handling the comprehensive legislation, said she has not begun discussions with Republicans yet because she wants to know the negotiable versus non-negotiable points within her own caucus first.
She said her party can both change the law and stay true to Democratic priorities — despite past efforts that have failed.
“We will have conversations with other legislators across the political spectrum,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Hispanic Caucus. But he was less conciliatory earlier this month when announcing the caucus’ immigration priorities, saying they were fighting the “Trump administration’s racist and xenophobic policies.”
Sanchez and others pointed to possible compromises on fixing agricultural worker visas, removing country-by-country caps per on employment based visas and working on certain limitations on undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens.
Sanchez also said getting Republicans to agree to a path to citizenship for Dreamers would be the “easiest piece,” but she doused Republican priorities that are bound to surface.
For instance, Trump has suggested he’d extend DACA protections if Congress allocates more money for additional barriers on the Mexico border that he promised in his 2016 campaign, when he said at rallies that Mexico would pay for a border wall.
“Wall funding would be problematic,” Sanchez said. “We could talk about reductions to legal immigration,” but only if those reductions were offset by increases in other categories.
And there’s already some disagreement within the caucus.
Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Redlands, of the Hispanic Caucus told McClatchy Democrats should pass their own legislation to send the message and then push the Senate.
“Moving something off of the floor here would be huge, and that’s the priority,” said Aguilar, who is also chief deputy whip for House Democrats. “I think that’s what the community has asked for and deserves a clean vote.”
The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, declined to comment on the record.
Dreamers could sign up for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program after former President Barack Obama enacted it in 2012, which allowed them to work under a temporary status. No new applicants were accepted after Trump rescinded it, though court decisions have mandated those already in the program, around 700,000 people, can continue to renew their status.
The Supreme Court passed on hearing arguments on Dreamers this term, making spring or summer of 2020 the soonest Dreamers could expect a final court decision that would give clarity on the issue. That’s a long time for inaction for the young people, especially those who didn’t sign up for DACA either out of ineligibility at the time or fear and now have no protections, said Abigail Trillin, director of Legal Services for Children in San Francisco, which provides legal help to Dreamers.
“Two years of not being able to work is really, really rough,” Trillin said. “That’s all these people want to do — contribute to their communities and support their families.”