House Passes Immigration Bill Aimed at Protecting ‘Dreamers’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, is applauded after she spoke at an event in Washington on Tuesday regarding the American Dream and Promise Act. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that rebuffs some of the Trump administration’s most high-profile moves on immigration, including by restoring protections from deportation for so-called Dreamers.

The immigration bill that cleared the House with a 237-187 vote on Tuesday afternoon will most likely not become law, as the White House has already threatened to veto it. But the bill is a sharp rebuke of the administration’s policies on immigration, with Democrats directly taking aim at some of the White House’s major immigration policy crackdowns.

The bill’s provisions together could give legal status to more than 2 million people. Activists and supporters of the bill who watched the vote from the gallery Tuesday linked arms as it inched towards the number of votes needed to pass and then broke into raucous cheers as it cleared the threshold, leading chants of “yes we can.”

The first part of the legislation, known as the American Dream and Promise Act, addresses people living in the country illegally who were brought to the United States as children, commonly known as Dreamers.

In 2012, the Obama administration cited prosecutorial discretion when putting in place the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which gave temporary protection from deportation to Dreamers.  

President Donald Trump rescinded the policy in 2017, though that move has been caught up in court challenges since it was announced. 

The bill the House passed Tuesday would give a 10-year conditional green card to people living in the United States illegally who were brought to the country before they turned 18, so long as they meet certain conditions.

In addition to not being barred from receiving a green card on criminal or national security grounds, a person seeking to take advantage of the program must meet educational benchmarks, pass a background check and show they have continuously lived in the United States since they entered the country.

After the 10-year period, people can have the conditional status removed by earning a higher education degree, completing a career training program, or serving in the military for two years.

“Let’s send a strong message to the world that we recognize that immigrants make America, America,” Representative Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., said on the House floor Tuesday.

Most Republicans opposed the measure on Tuesday afternoon, saying it goes even farther than DACA did and will incentivize people to come to the United States illegally.

“People respond to incentives,” Representative Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said on the House floor. “I respond to incentives. You respond to incentives. We also respond to deterrents. We remove deterrents here, instead we buttress incentives.”

In addition, Republicans said the bill does not place strict enough conditions on the people who would receive green cards, specifically pointing to a provision that allows people two misdemeanor convictions before they are locked out of the program.

The second part of the legislation reverses Trump’s withdrawal of two programs aimed at giving temporary status to people coming from countries ravaged by war, natural disasters or other circumstances.

The bill gives green cards to people who were eligible for either program on Jan. 1, 2017, so long as they meet other requirements for people looking to immigrate.

Trump has threatened to veto the bill, saying Congress should focus its immigration agenda on providing more money to efforts at the southern border, building Trump’s long-promised wall and moving towards a merit-based immigration system.

“No compromise is possible without both sides coming to the table and no compromise is worthwhile that does not address real underlying problems and improving our immigration system,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy. “President Donald J. Trump remains committed to working in a bipartisan manner to fix our immigration system, but the administration will not accept stand-alone policies that undermine its core immigration policy goals.”

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