A Critical Moment for Leadership to Protect Dreamers
After months fighting for their lives as Americans, Dreamers need just a handful of votes to achieve a milestone win in the House of Representatives. A final push now could clinch the victory.
To understand this moment, remember September 5, 2017, when the Trump Administration announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. That move placed over 800,000 Dreamers—young people who are American in all ways but their paperwork—at risk of deportation. Since the announcement, a small but significant group of House Republicans has joined virtually all House Democrats in supporting legislation that would protect Dreamers and provide them with a path to citizenship. Such legislation should be a no-brainer, since more than 8 out of 10 Americans support it.
But politics is never easy. Hardline House Republicans, led by the Freedom Caucus, have opposed granting Dreamers permanent protection, blocking bills at every possible stage, and Speaker Paul Ryan has refused to allow a floor vote on a bipartisan solution for Dreamers. For months these political games have stymied efforts to pass legislation that is good for Dreamers and for our nation.
Now comes the Republican-led bipartisan strategy to force the Speaker to give Dreamers a vote using two arcane procedural rules: the “Queen of the Hill” rule, a procedural device that sets up votes on multiple alternative bills, and the discharge petition, a legislative device that compels leadership to grant a floor vote on a bill if the petition garners 218 signatures. In March, Republican Congressman Jeff Denham introduced a resolution (H.Res.774) under the “Queen of the Hill” rule which includes four competing immigration bills: two of them are bipartisan and include permanent protection for Dreamers; one is House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s enforcement-heavy bill that tracks the White House’s demands; and the fourth is an undetermined package of Speaker Ryan’s choosing. Remarkably, Denham’s resolution now has 49 Republicans and nearly all Democrats as sponsors. But even with a decisive majority sponsoring it, H.Res. 774 can’t get a vote without leadership’s blessing.
That’s where the discharge petition comes in: Filed on May 9, the petition now has 20 Republican signers. With nearly all 193 Democrats expected to join, that means only 5 Republicans are still needed. If the discharge petition gets to 218, the four bills in Denham’s resolution each gets a vote, and the bill that wins the most votes would likely pass the House and go to the Senate.
This strategy is premised on a key political assumption: that a bill providing permanent protection for Dreamers would ultimately win the most votes.
Without question there is risk to this effort. There is tremendous conflict within the Republican Party on immigration as demonstrated by the failure of Friday’s House vote on the Farm Bill. For his own political survival Speaker Ryan cannot allow the discharge petition to control the agenda and he is already employing every political tool to circumvent it. Speaker Ryan could fashion a package combining watered-down protections for Dreamers with harsh enforcement provisions or provisions restricting the legal immigration system, rendering the bill unacceptable.
The upcoming weeks are critical and we need to stay vigilant. It is up to us to make sure members of Congress – Republicans and Democrats alike – remain committed to protecting Dreamers and stand firm against bad deals that include harmful provisions.
We cannot allow Congress to do nothing. After months of inaction, the need for permanent protection is dire. Without it, this country could bear witness to mass deportations of Dreamers by the thousands. Dreamers would be deported to nations that they don’t even remember. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has already taken enforcement actions against Dreamers. We also cannot count on the courts to prevent deportations—the current injunctions holding back DHS from finally ending DACA could soon be overturned. Only Congress can fix the problem. That’s why AILA has fought so hard alongside Dreamers to get a bill passed.
Now is the time to urge Republican House members to sign the discharge petition and to insist all House members vote only for a bill that includes lasting protection for Dreamers without a raft of unacceptable provisions. Every one of the 50 Republicans who sponsored H.Res. 774 should sign the petition. You can use AILA’s Advocacy Action Center to contact Congress now.
Ultimately, if the Speaker uses a procedural tactic to cheat Dreamers out of a vote on real protection for Dreamers, Americans will know how its leadership failed at a moment of great need when the opportunity was clearly within grasp. The plight of Dreamers has captured the hearts of the American people, and this critical moment will not be forgotten.