House passes (weak) immigration bill
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June 5, 2019
The House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that would offer a path to citizenship to unauthorized immigrants in this country who were brought here as children (“Dreamers”). It would also extend permanent residency to holders of Temporary Protective Status and Deferred Enforced Departure. The bill does not include provisions concerning border security. It was passed alongside a separate bill that takes back some funds for the border wall.
It will almost certainly go nowhere in the Senate, and should it pass there, Trump has promised to veto.
The bill passed largely along party lines, with all Democrats and seven Republicans voting in favor (237 in favor, 187 opposed).
So what does the bill do?
Not nearly enough - this is absolutely not a “comprehensive” bill - but some good things are here. The Dream and Promise Act deals specifically with the future of people here under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Temporary Protected Status, and Deferred Enforced Departure. As many as 2.5 million people could be offered a (circuitous) path to citizenship.
Trump has sought to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects “Dreamers” from removal proceedings, provided they have registered with the program (for a fee) and have no criminal record. DACA was issued as an executive order by Obama after Congress failed to pass the “Dream Act.” Trump’s effort to end DACA has been tied up in Federal Court. Should the law pass, the court proceedings would become moot. However, the path to citizenship envisioned here is a long one.
Those who register in the program would be offered conditional permanent residency — for 10 years! In order to qualify for actual permanent residency at the end of that time, they would:
- need to have arrived in the U.S. before turning 18 and have been in the U.S. for at least four years.
- need a relatively clean record — a felony conviction or three separate misdemeanors involving total jail time of 90 days would be disqualifying.
- need a high school diploma or GED, or to be enrolled in a program to get either one.
- need to pass a background check and other eligibility requirements.
The bill does offer provisions for Dreamers to get a green card sooner - through two years of military service, three years of work (which they can only do "legally" if they register under the conditional program), or if they receive a college degree. Once people are granted permanent residence, they must then wait five-years to apply for citizenship.
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) are both “humanitarian” categories. Both protect people from specific countries from removal proceedings due to political instability and/or natural disasters in their countries of origin. DED applies primarily to Liberians. TPS extends to people from nine countries, the largest groups coming from El Salvador and Haiti. Trump has refused to renew TPS for most countries, but his effort to do so is being blocked by several cases currently in Federal Court. Trump similarly has tried to end DED, but is now focused on fading it out.
Under the new bill, holders of TPS and DED will be allowed to apply for green cards immediately, and then could apply for citizenship after five years as is the case for other permanent residents.
Absent major revision in the Senate to incorporate border security measures and/or elements of Trump’s proposed visa reforms announced two weeks ago, this bill will almost certainly die there alongside other measures passed by the House. Everyone celebrating yesterday knows this. What the bill does do, however, is give us a glimpse of the outer limit of what Democratic leadership is willing to do on immigration this election cycle. We might summarize this strategy as holding up the “good” immigrants who are here as the result of decisions made by others or disasters outside their control for protection, which has the effect of casting Democrats as slightly more compassionate than Republicans.
[caption id="attachment_6092" align="alignnone" width="720"] This is not addressed in the new bill[/caption]
Meanwhile, there is nothing of substance in the works concerning the fundamental flaws of an immigration system that criminalizes migration, creates an expansive network of for-profit detention centers (within which companies operate with absolute impunity), leaves the application of immigration law under the sole discretion of the Attorney General, and continues to militarize our border. Some candidates have broached elements of this, but few in the party’s leadership seem willing to take it on.
If the point of legislation such as this bill is, in essence, virtue signaling, why not go further? The truth is, the Democrats helped build this deeply flawed system too. And would rather not talk about it.