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House passes immigration bills with path to citizenship for "Dreamers" and farmworkers

House paves way for Dreamers to achieve citizenship
House passes immigration bills with path to citizenship for "Dreamers" and farmworkers 00:42

The House on Thursday passed two proposals that would legalize subsets of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission, as Democrats gauge the chances of approving immigration legislation and sending it to President Biden's desk.

Joined by nine Republicans, all House Democrats voted to approve the American Dream and Promise Act, which passed by a vote of 228 to 197. The proposal would allow more than 2.3 million "Dreamers," or unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, as well as beneficiaries of certain temporary humanitarian programs, to gain permanent legal status and eventually, U.S. citizenship.

By a vote of 247 to 174, the Democratic-led House also passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would grant legal status to hundreds of thousands of farmworkers living in the U.S. without authorization. Thirty Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and one Democrat voted against it.

The two measures were recently reintroduced after passing the House in 2019 with some Republican support.

Immediately after the farmworker bill passed, Senators Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Mike Crapo, a Republican, issued a statement saying they would be introducing "companion legislation" in the Senate that "appropriately addresses the needs of both the industry and the farmworkers that uphold it."

Given that Mr. Biden's sweeping plan to legalize most of the country's undocumented population has been met with broad Republican rejection, the stand-alone bills may represent Democrats' best chance of getting immigration legislation through the evenly divided Senate.

"It's always been a pleasure for me to sing the praises of our Dreamers. They make us so proud," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at an event with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the Capitol ahead of the votes. "For us, this is a day of not only passing legislation, but a cause for celebration."

Congress Immigration
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, joined by Representative Raul Ruiz, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, discusses an upcoming vote on the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 at the Capitol on Thursday, March 18, 2021. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

If signed into law, the American Dream and Promise Act would make recipients of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and other undocumented immigrants brought to the country before age 18 eligible to apply for a 10-year period of conditional permanent residence if they satisfy several requirements

Would-be applicants would be eligible to apply for permanent residence if they earned a college degree or enrolled in a bachelor's program for two years; if they served in the military for at least two years; or if they worked in the U.S. for a three-year period.

More than 300,000 immigrants living in the U.S. with Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure, two provisional forms of humanitarian relief, would automatically be eligible to apply for permanent residency under the bill if they meet the eligibility rules, which include having lived in the U.S. for at least three years.

Unlike its 2019 version, the Dream Act that passed by the House on Thursday would also allow children of temporary U.S. work visa holders trapped in the backlogged employment-based green card process to adjust their status.

Seven Republican members of Congress joined 230 Democrats to pass the 2019 version of the House Dream Act, which has been spearheaded by California Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard.

Immigrant advocates and many Democrats consider passing the Dream Act as an urgent priority due to the legal cloud hanging over the DACA program. While Mr. Biden has reversed former President Trump's efforts to end DACA, a federal judge in Texas is expected to rule on the legality of the program. 

Meanwhile, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would allow immigrant farmworkers to apply for a temporary and renewable immigration status if they have worked at least 180 days in the U.S. during a two-year period.

Eligible workers would be allowed to request green cards if they complete four or eight years of additional agricultural work, depending on whether they have performed such work for more than or less than 10 years.

The proposal, introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Republican Congressman Dan Newhouse, would also make several changes to the H-2A visa program for agricultural workers, including making visas valid for three years.

In December 2019, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed the House through a 260 to 165 vote, with more than 20 Republican lawmakers voting with Democrats to approve the plan.

Last month, congressional Democrats unveiled a broad immigration overhaul proposal based on an outline crafted by Mr. Biden's team. Along with expanding legal immigration, investing in Central America and refocusing border controls, the bill would create a massive, two-tier legalization program for a broad group of immigrants living in the U.S. without authorization.

Dreamers, TPS holders and farmworkers would be automatically eligible for green cards, while other undocumented immigrants could request temporary legal status. The latter group could request green cards after five years with the interim status.

While it earned praise from progressives, the plan championed by Mr. Biden has yet to garner any public Republican support in Congress. Earlier this week, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, suggested that Pelosi did not yet have enough votes in the House to secure the bill's passage there.

"I think that indicates where it is in the Senate as well," Durbin told reporters, saying he would start negotiating with Republican senators to see if they would support the stand-alone bills for Dreamers, TPS holders and farmworkers.

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