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Democrats renew push for green cards for ‘documented Dreamers’

Some senators are searching for possible areas of agreement on the notoriously partisan subject of immigration

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting in February.
Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting in February. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Corrected 4:09 p.m. | Democrats renewed their push Wednesday to provide a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of so-called documented Dreamers who grew up legally in the U.S. but risk deportation when they turn 21 years old.

At a press conference, California Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla touted his bill to permanently protect roughly 250,000 immigrants who grew up in the U.S. as dependents on their parents’ temporary visas, and graduated from American universities, but aged out of that dependent status.

“For these young people, turning 21 means facing an impossible choice,” Padilla said. “Either to leave your family and self-deport to a country that you barely remember, or to stay in the United States living, undocumented, in the shadows.”

Padilla, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, is among the Republicans and Democrats who have met regularly in recent weeks to find possible areas of agreement on the notoriously partisan subject of immigration.

The Senate version of the documented Dreamers bill has four Republican co-sponsors — including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. — while the House version of the bill has ten Republican co-sponsors.

Yet political tensions over immigration are elevated on Capitol Hill as the Biden administration prepares to end pandemic-era border expulsions, an issue that has divided Democrats and galvanized Republicans.

Paul told CQ Roll Call there is “significant bipartisan support” for the bill, but accused Democrats of being unwilling to compromise on narrow legislation.

“Most reforms on immigration have been held hostage by the Democrats wanting everything they want or nothing,” Paul said.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters that the documented Dreamers legislation would likely need to move as part of a broader package that addresses Republican concerns about border security.

“I have heard no pushback on this bill,” Durbin said. “All they’ve said is, ‘we want to deal with the border challenges.’”

The renewal of bipartisan efforts on immigration comes months after Democrats fell short in an attempt to pass sweeping provisions to overhaul the immigration system in a budget reconciliation process.

Since then, they have also upped pressure on the Biden administration to take executive actions, such as expanding the use of temporary protected status, which protects immigrants from deportation and makes them eligible to work legally for 18 months after the designation.

Democrats hope to capitalize on bipartisan concerns about labor shortages and inflation to build support for immigration legislation as the midterm elections draw closer.

Lawmakers are also working to build traction on a separate bill to revise guest worker visas — including H-2A seasonal agricultural visas and H-2B visas for nonagricultural labor, like hospitality and food processing. That bill passed the House with 30 Republican votes but has yet to be considered in the Senate.

“Think about how many times we’ve been told we don’t have the workforce we need,” Durbin said at the press conference. “These are young people, educated in the United States, who grew up in this country believing it was their home and are really looking forward to a future in this country.”

This report was revised to reflect the scope of the House-passed guest worker bill.

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