Washington Watch: House may soon vote on Dream Act

A bill proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, would temporarily extend the DACA program for current recipients but it would not establish a path to citizenship for Dreamers. (Photo: House Judiciary Committee)

Ever since the Senate failed to pass any of three alternative bills in February that would have established a path to citizenship for approximately 1.8 million “Dreamers” – undocumented individuals who were brought to this country at a young age – prospects for any further legislative action in the near term looked bleak.

Congress had already passed the fiscal year 2018 funding bill that Senate Democrats briefly used as leverage, forcing a short-lived government shutdown over the lack of a permanent legislative fix for the Dreamers. And multiple federal courts had ordered the Trump administration to resume taking applications from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients whose two-year reprieves from deportation were expiring, thereby taking some of the heat off Congress to act.

Rep. Jeff Denham is pushing a procedural measure that would permit votes on four immigration bills. (Photo: Associated Press)

But behind the scenes, discussions that had continued about a path forward have now crystallized into a movement led by moderate House Republicans to force a floor vote on legislation to protect the Dreamers. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-California) has sponsored a rule (H. Res 774) that would bring four immigration bills to the floor under the rarely invoked “Queen of the Hill” procedure. Under this procedure, the bill that gets the most votes out of the four (as long as it receives a majority of votes) is the one that passes the House.

Under the rule, the so-called “clean” Dream Act sponsored by Rep. Roybal-Allard (D-California), bipartisan compromise legislation spearheaded by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Pete Aguilar (D-California), the House conservatives’ preferred bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) and a fourth, yet-to-be-developed alternative by House Speaker Paul Ryan would all be made “in order” for a vote.

Bucking leadership

At press time, H. Res. 774 has House-majority 244 cosponsors, yet the House Rules Committee has not considered it because House leadership opposes the resolution. In light of this, another House Republican (Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida) has taken an additional step to buck the leadership by filing a “discharge petition” that, if signed by a majority of House members (218), would bring the rule to the House floor in spite of leadership’s opposition.

As Congress headed off on its Memorial Day recess, 213 members had signed the petition, including 23 Republicans and 190 Democrats. The petition is widely expected to garner the five additional signatures it needs shortly after Congress returns next week from its recess. Should that happen, the rule could come to the House floor on June 25.

The Goodlatte bill

The expected success of the discharge petition has House leadership scrambling to craft a bill that could pass with the support of 218 Republicans, but that will not be easy. On the one hand there are numerous House Republicans that have publicly supported the Denham/Curbelo movement. On the other, the most conservative House members adamantly oppose “amnesty” for Dreamers and have demanded a separate vote on the Goodlatte bill, which does not establish a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Instead, it would temporarily extend the DACA program for current recipients.

The Goodlatte bill also has numerous other provisions to cut down on illegal and legal immigration alike. Recently, House conservatives sunk the farm bill not because they objected to that legislation, but because they were upset that the Goodlatte bill was not brought up for a vote. House leadership hopes to somehow bridge this divide and bring a Republican-backed bill up for a vote before June 25.

Be ready

The American Association of Community Colleges has supported legislation to provide Dreamers with a path to citizenship since the Dream Act was first introduced in 2001. While any number of things can happen between now and late June, community college leaders should be aware that the time may come again very soon to make a big push to pass the Dream Act or a similar bill in the House.

About the Author

Jim Hermes
is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.