Legislators reintroduce immigration bills previously passed by House but blocked by Senate

Legislators reintroduce immigration bills previously passed by House but blocked by Senate
Chicago Immigration Protest // A young girl holds an American flag during a stand for immigrants' rights in Chicago, May 1, 2006. // Photo credit: Joseph Voves https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Wednesday was a big day in the U.S. House of Representatives, with legislators reintroducing two major legalization bills that stand to affect millions. The first, the Dream and Promise Act, affects Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders. The second, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, provides a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers and their families.

Both bills were previously introduced by the House, and passed with bipartisan votes. The Dream and Promise Act received seven Republican votes to pass 237 to 187, while the Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed by an even wider margin of 260 to 165. It was the first time the chamber had passed such protections in many years. Yet, like countless other progressive pieces of legislation, the bills were stalled by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Following his demotion, advocates say now is the time to act.

"Passage of the Dream & Promise Act, along with the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, would be a critical first step towards citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants," United We Dream (UWD) executive director Greisa Martinez Rosas said in a statement received by Daily Kos. "The Dream & Promise Act is one of the most expansive policies to provide permanent solutions for millions of immigrant youth and TPS holders and includes much-needed improvements to expand eligibility."

The legislation, reintroduced by California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez, and New York Rep. Yvette Clarke, would at last bring some relief to up to 3 million undocumented immigrants like UWD member Idalia Quinteros, who came to the U.S. when she was just 8 but was a year off from qualifying for DACA protections. "Without any form of protection, I have always felt a sense of anxiety and fear that I might be deported and separated from my loved ones," she said in the statement."

"The Dream & Promise Act would be life changing for me and millions of young people who don't qualify for protections from deportation under DACA," she continued. "Under this bill, I would finally have the opportunity to apply to and take a decent paying job with a work permit, get a driver's license, become more independent, qualify for more scholarships for college, and feel secure in my home. Congress must immediately pass the Dream & Promise Act for me and three million other undocumented people."

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, reintroduced by Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California and Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse of New York, would implement long overdue protections for undocumented workers whose labor puts food on tables across the U.S. The moral imperative to put undocumented farmworkers and their families on a path to legalization and citizenship has only grown since the bill's Dec. 2019 House passage.

While farm laborers were deemed essential workers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, workers without legal status have been shut out of emergency relief. InsideClimate News also reported last July that a study conducted by the California Institute for Rural Studies found that "[f]arm hubs have the highest rates of Covid-19 in the state, and Latinx patients comprise the majority of cases in those hot spots." Collaborative efforts in the state have since targeted farmworkers for the vaccine by taking mobile clinics straight to them.

"The bill was negotiated over eight months in 2019 with input from farmers, agricultural stakeholders, labor organizations, and farmworker advocates," Lofgren's office said. "In December 2019, it became the first agriculture labor reform legislation to pass the House of Representatives since 1986. Since its passage in the House, a bipartisan coalition of Members has been working to strengthen support for the legislation."

However, advocates from UWD, Immigrant Justice Network (IJC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and America's Voice (AV) urged legislators to improve both pieces of legislation, saying that they worry the bills as-is exclude immigrants who've endured racial profiling by law enforcement.

"No bill is perfect," America's Voice founder Frank Sharry said. "There are provisions in both bills that are cause for concern. For example, the Dream and Promise Act includes troubling provisions that will exclude from a path to permanent status some who have had minor brushes with a harsh and discriminatory criminal justice system. These additional exclusions should be stripped from the bill or at least ameliorated as the legislation moves forward."

"The Dream and Promise Act must honor the promise made to protect hundreds of thousands of immigrants who call the United States home," IJN said. "This makes it all the more important for the bill to be truly inclusive and reflect our values of equity, compassion, and respect for everyone's rights." The ACLU said, "[w]e can achieve justice for immigrants without exacerbating the harms of the racist criminal legal system on Black and Brown immigrants. We call on Congress to pass citizenship legislation without harmful trade offs or exclusions. The time is now."

Like Daily Kos' Stephen Wolf noted yesterday following the House passage of the historic For the People Act, pro-immigrant legislation faces a hurdle in the Senate, "given Democrats' narrow majority and uncertainty over whether they can overcome a GOP filibuster," but it's a fight we must undertake to protect our families who have lived in uncertainty and fear for far too long.

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