Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and his leadership colleagues are on the verge of losing control of the congressional debate on immigration, as a discharge petition has almost enough signatures to force floor votes on four bills.
President Donald Trump has made immigration one of his top priorities since the campaign. Congress has been left to debate his goals alongside other efforts such as protecting immigrants who were brought into the country illegally when they were children, a group known as Dreamers. But disagreements among Republican lawmakers and sustained opposition from Democrats have slowed the process.
Republican Reps. Will Hurd of Texas and Carlos Curbelo of Florida introduced a discharge petition May 9 hoping to break the stalemate. They are now just a few shy of the 218 signatures needed on their petition to bring the four immigration bills up for a vote. Ryan warns the move would essentially give Democrats control of the floor.
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“We have an opportunity to finally gain operational control of our border and provide a permanent legislative fix for people who came to this country through no fault of their own,” Hurd said in an earlier statement. “We cannot avoid action any longer, and this is an important issue that the American people want debated on the house floor.”
The dreamers — for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act — are young individuals brought to the country by their parents. Former President Barack Obama provided protections for them through an executive action that established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
President Trump has called the program unconstitutional while also expressing sympathy for the immigrants it is meant to protect. He instead wants lawmakers to approve a permanent fix to the dreamer issue in a bill that also includes funding for the proposed wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, along with terminating chain migration and the draft lottery program.
“Since arriving in Congress, one of my top priorities has been to forge a compromise on immigration that delivers a fair, permanent solution for young immigrants brought to our country as children, while securing the border and strengthening our immigration laws,” Curbelo said in a statement. “Since the president’s call for congressional action on DACA and other immigration policies in September of last year, the House has done nothing.”
The discharge petition would force a vote on a resolution introduced by Rep. Jeff Denham that would allow members to debate the issue on the floor under what is known as the “queen of the hill” rule. The rule dictates that whichever proposal receives the most votes and a majority will be adopted. But GOP leaders warn that a successful petition would be counterproductive.
“Having some kind of spectacle on the floor that results in a veto doesn’t solve this problem,” Ryan said. “We never want to turn the floor over to the minority. What I don’t want to do is have a process that just ends up with a veto. We actually want to solve the DACA problem.”
The four bills the discharge petition would bring to a vote include several notable differences. Rep. Bob Goodlatte introduced the more conservative bill, which is aimed at bolstering immigration enforcement, reforming legal immigration programs, securing the border, and providing a legislative solution for dreamers.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard’s (D-Calif.) bill would give dreamers lawful permanent residence and a pathway to citizenship. Ryan would also have the opportunity to put forth a bill of his choice as part of the discharge petition.
Hurd introduced the fourth bill, which could get a floor vote. The Hurd proposal protects DACA recipients while implementing new border security measures through enhanced technology, manpower, and some physical barriers when it is necessary. The bill includes 59 cosponsors split fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
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Democratic leaders are enthusiastically backing the petition despite its origin among Republicans. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signed onto the petition alongside seven other lawmakers May 24. She noted a short time later that she was excited about the bipartisan way the petition came together.
The petition was just five signatures away from its goal when lawmakers left for a week-long recess May 25. House Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry said a day earlier that the petition will likely get enough signatures after the recess, according to Roll Call. He added the only way they can stop it is finding legislation that can pass.