The House of Representatives passed two bills on immigration reform on Thursday that would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of DREAMers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and farm workers. But they also served as an early indicator of Republicans’ limited appetite to work with Democrats on the highly polarized issue of immigration, raising the question of whether a more ambitious, comprehensive overhaul is possible in the current political climate.
The bills, Democrats’ first stab at passing any sort of immigration reform since the start of the Biden Administration and taking control of Congress, passed with modest Republican support. But they face an uncertain future in the Senate due to the surge of unaccompanied migrant minors arriving at the southern U.S. border.
The American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would grant DREAMers, some Temporary Protected Status holders, and farm workers the legal status they would need to pursue citizenship. Both bills are backed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
They are separate from the Biden Administration’s more ambitious immigration legislation proposal, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, aimed at modernizing the American immigration system. But the Biden Administration was supportive of these efforts, giving each a statement of support ahead of passing.
Similar bills were passed in the Democrat-controlled House during the Trump Administration with Republican support before the Senate refused to take them up. This week, they saw comparable levels of GOP backing, with 30 Republicans voting with Democrats for the farm workforce bill and nine Republicans voting for The American Dream and Promise Act.
In 2013, the last time there were earnest attempts at reaching a bipartisan deal on immigration reform, the Senate passed an immigration bill with substantial bipartisan support, but the then Republican-controlled House never took it up. Since then, the Trump Administration helped shift the Republican party further right on immigration, a trajectory reflected in the upper chamber.
“Eight years is a long time, and a lot has changed. Our country’s changed, the world has changed,” Senator Marco Rubio, one of two remaining Republican Senators of the immigration gang of eight that helped craft the 2013 legislation, told reporters this week. Rubio went on to say that immigration reform would have to be done in pieces rather than comprehensively. Asked whether he thought that same bill could pass today, Senator Lindsey Graham, the other remaining gang of eight Republican Senator, says no. “You need to get the border under control if we’re going to have a discussion about immigration.”
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*Joseph G. Cella, Esq. is the managing founder of Cella & Associates, LLC. During his nearly 30 years of practicing Immigration Law, Mr. Cella has been published in the New Jersey Law Journal, and has authored many articles on Immigration Law. Mr. Cella has also lectured on numerous topics of immigration law for a number of organizations including the Federal Bar Association.