The House of Representatives on Thursday voted to approve a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, including those brought to the country illegally as minors and refugees with temporary protected status.
The American Dream and Promise Act passed 228-197 with nine Republican votes. Five Republicans didn’t vote.
Many Republicans argued that the bill and an associated bill granting a path to citizenship to farmworkers were poorly timed due to the surge of illegal immigration at the US-Mexico border.
The farmworker bill is expected to pass Thursday evening largely along party lines.
The legislation “ignores the problem, but will actually worsen the situation,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who accused Biden of sparking a surge in migration with his 2020 campaign rhetoric and border policies.
“During a press conference this morning, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi had a sign up that said ‘Home is here.’ This is the wrong message at the wrong time,” he said.
Republicans also said that the bill wasn’t the result of bipartisan negotiation and therefore is likely doomed in the Senate, where 60 votes typically are needed for bills to pass.
Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, denounced the top-down drafting process for the bills, which she said made clear the legislation was more about messaging than actual reform.
“We do grandstanding drama and constant rhetoric,” she objected. “We have to work on policy, not on political drama.”
Democrats, however, hailed the pair of bills as historic would-be paths to citizenship for about half of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the US.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “Weather permitting, we would have been on the steps of the Capitol to say to the world that we are making a very big difference in how we respect the beautiful diversity of America, how we respect the fact that immigration is the constant reinvigoration of America.”
Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), the first former illegal immigrant in Congress — he overstayed a tourist visa in the 1960s — said it was “hypocritical” for people to oppose legal status for farmworkers and young people who supply their food and work in service-industry, the military and medical professions.
“I came to this nation without no papers, and I sit as a member of Congress and my vote is equal to any of your votes — is equal to any of your votes — because this country, you can dream and it has promise,” said Espaillat, who is from the Dominican Republic.
Biden tweeted in favor of the bills and called for even farther-reaching legislation that would “legalize the undocumented population in the United States.” But that farther-reaching goal is considered unlikely to pass the House due to a narrow eight-seat Democratic majority and disagreement from centrists.
The American Dream and Promise Act would apply to young people brought illegally to the US as children as well as most of the roughly 400,000 people living in the US with Temporary Protected Status as of 2017. It creates a 10-year conditional status before people can apply for citizenship. There are about 643,000 current beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — created in 2012 by President Barack Obama.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates the American Dream and Promise Act would benefit up to 4.4 million eligible people. The bill’s House sponsors estimated a smaller figure — 2.5 million — in a press release this month.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, meanwhile, would create a two-year temporary residency status for agricultural workers. The Certified Agricultural Worker status could be renewed indefinitely so long as the recipient continued to work. After 10 years of work and a $1,000 fine, they could gain a green card. Green-card holders generally can apply for citizenship after five years.
A counter-proposal from a group of Republicans led by Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) would couple a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants to tighter enforcement of immigration laws and increased border security.