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‘Dreamers’ advocates turn up heat on Senate after Biden meeting

House Democrats help in push on bill to help undocumented immigrants

Protesters hold signs  supporting "Dreamers" and TPS holders outside the Supreme Court in November 2019.
Protesters hold signs supporting "Dreamers" and TPS holders outside the Supreme Court in November 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats and immigrant advocates are ramping up calls for the Senate to pass legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

The measure, which passed the House in March, would grant permanent legal protections to around 3.4 million undocumented immigrants called “Dreamers,” as well as many Temporary Protected Status holders and Deferred Enforced Departure recipients. But the Senate has not indicated when, if at all, it plans to vote.

The bill would likely face steep odds in that chamber, where 10 Republican votes are needed for a filibuster-proof majority unless Democrats manage to weave immigration provisions into a possible budget reconciliation bill, an option many lawmakers are backing.

[Democrats weigh reconciliation bill for immigration action]

The White House signaled its support for the bill on Friday when President Joe Biden met with six undocumented immigrants, brought to the U.S. as children and currently working under protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program.

“When the president of the United States meets for the first time as president with six DACA recipients, this definitely signals that this is a topic that is very important to him,” said Karen Reyes, a special education teacher and DACA recipient who attended the meeting. “We need to keep this momentum going and really put pressure on the Senate.”

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also officially called on the Senate to pass the measure.

The Oval Office meeting “underscores the crucial need for the Senate to pass the Dream and Promise Act,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., in a statement. “As Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, I thank President Biden for his commitment to securing a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.”

The push comes as the prospects of agreement on a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill appear increasingly dim. A bipartisan group of senators continues to meet, but Republicans have thrown cold water on compromising unless Biden takes stronger action to stem migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

[Bipartisan immigration talks thwarted by escalating migration]

Meanwhile, immigration advocates eager for movement during a rare period of unified Democratic control in Washington have given up hope of any Republican support for legalizing undocumented immigrants. They’re urging Democrats to move forward alone this year, before the political distraction of the 2022 midterms set in.

A spokesperson in the office of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We can’t do those tradeoffs anymore,” said Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, state and local policy manager at United We Dream, an organization that advocates for immigrant youth.

She pointed to increased funding for immigration enforcement in recent years without similar expansions of legal protections for undocumented immigrants: “We need our side of the deal to be honored now.”

[No ‘Dreamers’ allowed: DACA recipients still can’t work for Congress]

Democrats and advocates are also eyeing bills that would provide pathways to citizenship for other groups, like undocumented agricultural farm workers and essential workers. But legal protections for DACA recipients have long had support from Democrats and many Republicans, plus a majority of voters, despite the lack of legislative progress.

Biden himself has acknowledged that broad agreement could be out of reach, urging Congress during his State of the Union address to focus on narrower changes to immigration policy.

“Now look, if you don’t like my plan, let’s at least pass what we all agree on,” he said. “Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally secure protection for Dreamers, the young people who have only known America as their home.”

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