House set to approve bills to legalize half of illegal immigrants

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The House of Representatives is poised to pass on Thursday two immigration reform bills that would create a path to citizenship for what Democrats estimate is up to half of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the US.

The two bills — benefiting farm workers, people brought illegally to the US as minors and refugees with temporary status — are expected to pass the House, but they face an uphill battle in the Senate, where 60 votes generally are needed for bills.

“The legislation that we will vote on today will cover almost half, or maybe as much as half, of the undocumented people that we have in our country today and give them legal status,” said Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) at a Thursday morning press conference.

President Biden supports the bills, which are an attempted piecemeal approach to his larger proposed immigration reform legislation that would create a path to citizenship for all illegal immigrants. A more comprehensive bill is considered unlikely to pass the House due to disagreement among Democrats, who hold a slim eight-seat advantage.

Republicans blame Biden’s US-Mexico border policies and his proposed reform legislation for creating new “pull” factors for migration, resulting in a significant increase in new illegal immigration in February.

House Republicans rolled out their own immigration plan this week, offering an alternative solution to the ongoing crisis.

The Dignity Plan, led by Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), provides immediate legal status for Dreamers, young people granted a pathway to citizenship under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

It also prioritizes border security, requiring the federal government to provide funding for “an impenetrable border infrastructure system that should include enhanced physical barriers, employing the most up-to-date technology, and securing our ports of entry.”

The legislation also provides a 10-year path to legal status for non-felon immigrants, while cracking down on abuse in the asylum system and improving processing for those fleeing persecution.

Additionally, it “enhances enforcement of immigration laws” to “ensure criminals are removed immediately.”

The Democrats’ 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 the person can apply for citizenship.

There are roughly 643,000 current beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — created in 2012 by former President Barack Obama — after the program was closed to new applicants under former President Donald Trump. But the new status for young people is believed to apply to many more people.

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.

As of October, the US granted Temporary Protected Status to approximately 411,000 people from 10 countries, according to the Congressional Research Service. TPS status shields approved applicants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It recently was expanded to cover Venezuelan exiles.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, also up for a House vote on Thursday, creates a new 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.

Farm workers who pay a fine of $1,000 could gain a green card after 10 years of work. Green-card holders generally can apply for citizenship after 5 years.

The number of farm workers who would qualify is unclear because workers often have false identification documents. Government and non-profit estimates vary but are in the ballpark of 1 million people.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) quoted the rapper Notorious B.I.G. at the pre-vote Democratic press conference on the bills.

“Let me be clear, our current immigration system is broken. And to coin a phrase of another very distinguished Jamaican-American, the Notorious B.I.G., ‘If you don’t know, now you know,’” Clarke said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lamented that rainy weather moved the press conference indoors.

“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,” she said.

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