By Amanda Becker and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Unless the U.S. House of Representatives can beat the legislative odds, America’s young “Dreamer” immigrants will have to keep dreaming about living without fear of deportation.
That was the gloomy outlook on Wednesday in the House for an effort to solve the long-standing issue of the Dreamers that is expected to come to a head next week.
The Dreamers are hundreds of thousands of young people, mostly Hispanic, who illegally entered the country years ago as children and are now protected from deportation by an Obama-era program – known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – that Republican President Donald Trump wants to end.
Congress missed a March 5 deadline Trump set for replacing DACA, which was established in 2012, with a new law to protect the Dreamers, with lawmakers unable to bridge sharp differences on the issue.
In the latest push to address the situation, House Speaker Paul Ryan plans to bring up two bills for House votes next week, and Republican leaders said they were consulting with the White House. But prospects were not encouraging for either measure.
On Thursday, Ryan is scheduled to address the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast, just days before the House aims to debate the future of an immigrant group that most Americans feel should be helped, according to public opinion polls.
One of the House bills is a hard-line measure from conservative Republicans that Democrats and some Republicans oppose. A similar plan already failed in the Senate. It would sharply reduce legal immigration, build a wall on the Mexican border and deny Dreamers the chance of citizenship.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi put Ryan on notice late Tuesday about the hard-line bill. “If Republicans plan to use Dreamers as a way to advance @realDonaldTrump’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant agenda, they will get a fight from House Democrats,” she warned in a tweet, using Trump’s Twitter handle.
The American Civil Liberties Union also lashed out at Ryan’s plan.
“The ultimate goal of the Trump administration and immigration hardliners in Congress is to make it easier to detain and deport children and families” and build a “wasteful and harmful border wall,” the ACLU’s director of immigration policy, Lorella Praeli, said in a statement.
The other bill is aimed at winning just enough Republican support for passage. But it has not been finalized. And Democrats said Ryan has not reached out to get their views on the legislation.
Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday that Republicans were “not making any overtures to get our support in terms of the values that we would share” in legislation.
Even though Republicans control both chambers of Congress, the Democrats’ views matter because they likely have the votes to block any partisan legislation in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is cool to the idea of spending any more time on immigration this year. A February debate on the issue ended with the defeat of four bills.
Rather, McConnell wants to focus the next few months on government funding matters to keep the federal government, including the military, running through the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30, as well as confirming Trump’s conservative picks for the federal judiciary.
Moreover, some Republicans want to hold off on immigration legislation pending court decisions later this year on Trump’s bid to end Democratic former President Barack Obama’s DACA program.
Still, some lawmakers held out hope of a breakthrough. Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo said next week’s House debate could produce a law. Describing the compromise bill that may soon be unveiled, he said the Dreamers would “immediately and permanently be shielded from deportation.”
After years of living in fear of deportation, he said, they would be “indistinguishable from a legal permanent resident of the United States who can travel, work.”
Passage in the House, he predicted, would create “extraordinary” pressure on the Senate to act.