Legal Status for ‘Dreamers’ Sought in House GOP Bill

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By Laura D. Francis

A group of 10 House Republicans introduced legislation (H.R.1468) that would provide legal status to young, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, known as “dreamers.”

The move signals a growing consensus among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that this population should get special treatment, even as the administration continues to crack down on illegal immigration generally. President Donald Trump also has commented that he plans to “work out something” for the group. He hasn’t yet touched former President Barack Obama’s program protecting dreamers, despite promising on the campaign trail to terminate it.

“These are America’s children, and that is why I’m proud to lead this group of representatives from all over the country to introduce legislation to simply recognize them as such and provide them an earned path to legal status,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), the bill’s main sponsor, said in a statement.

The dreamers get their name from the DREAM Act, legislation repeatedly introduced in Congress to provide them with legal status, but which never passed.

Likely Part of Package

“Most people recognize that some type of legalization is going to have to accompany some of the border enforcement provisions that President Trump has talked about,” Kristie De Peña, immigration policy counsel at the libertarian Niskanen Center, told Bloomberg BNA March 10. “Tentatively, this looks like it’s going to be a package,” she said.

Many Republicans in Congress “are sympathetic to this group of immigrants” but have been waiting for “some leadership” about which legislative vehicle to support, De Peña said. Because the bill was introduced by a group of Republicans, more GOP members are likely to latch on, she said.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) suggested March 2 that an overhaul of the immigration system would be possible if done as a series of legislative packages. And a bill that codifies Obama’s deferred action for childhood arrivals program--combined with something else--should be up first, he said.

A spokeswoman for the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration legislation, declined to comment on the bill’s prospects. Representatives for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

Conditional Permanent Resident Status

The Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act supplements the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act (H.R. 496/S. 128), bipartisan legislation that would temporarily protect young, undocumented immigrants from deportation. Unlike the BRIDGE Act, the RAC Act’s protections would be permanent.

The bill would set up a program at the Department of Homeland Security much like DACA, with similar age, education and criminal history criteria to the administrative program.

Undocumented immigrants who meet those criteria would receive conditional permanent resident status and work authorization for an initial five-year period. That conditional status could be extended for another five years if certain conditions were met. Those with conditional status could apply for lawful permanent resident status at the end of any five-year conditional status period.

Once the immigrants obtain lawful permanent resident status, they’d be eligible for citizenship under the regular rules.

‘Stringent’ Provisions Could Aid Passage

The RAC Act is slightly more “stringent” in some regards than DACA--such as calling for background checks and requiring that applicants pay back taxes, De Peña said. But that ultimately could aid in its passage.

“Amnesty is sort of a bad word in the Republican base,” De Peña said. “That’s not without some validity,” she said.

The “extra hoops” in the bill that immigrants must go through in order to obtain lawful permanent resident status--as well as the lack of a “special pathway” to citizenship--are likely to allay most concerns about the legislation being a form of amnesty.

The bill makes sure that its beneficiaries “are really contributing to society,” that the government knows who they are and that they aren’t public safety or national security threats, De Peña said. That “is comforting to many Republicans,” she said.

But it’s hard to say whether legalization only for dreamers is enough for Democrats to get behind the border security and enforcement proposals from the Trump administration, De Peña said. “It may ultimately depend on what Republicans are asking for as far as the border and the cost of the wall and what interior enforcement mechanisms may accompany some of that,” she said.

There will have to be a “balance” between the scope of the enforcement measures and the scope of legalization, she said.

The bill is co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Mike Coffman (Colo.), Jeff Denham (Calif.), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Mark Amodei (Nev.), Jenniffer González Colón (P.R.), Fred Upton (Mich.), David Reichert (Wash.) and David G. Valadao (Calif.).

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the RAC Act is available at http://src.bna.com/mRT.

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