Las Vegas Sun

October 16, 2017

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Lawmakers push competing protections for Dreamers

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Steve Marcus

A man holds up a sign as DACA recipients and supporters march in front of the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017.

Young immigrants at risk of deportation are looking for a solution from Congress, where a bipartisan bill is pitted against a new, more conservative proposal from Republicans.

As the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program phases out, Democrats are pushing for action on the Dream Act. The legislation has been proposed repeatedly over the years and originally stems from a bill introduced in part by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of the lawmakers behind a new conservative proposal to protect these immigrants.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., joined Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Jesús Contreras, a DACA recipient and Houston paramedic who came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 6, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday to push for the Dream Act’s passage. Durbin said Democrats are hoping to move on the Dream Act before Dec. 8.

It’s been about 10 days since Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., met with President Donald Trump to discuss DACA. Durbin says it was agreed that lawmakers would move forward on the Dream Act, which includes citizenship. He said Democrats also agreed to consider a proposal from the administration on border security.

“We’re going to call the White House and ask them if they could move quickly, because we want to get this done as quickly as we can,” Durbin said.

The Republicans’ so-called Succeed Act would allow Dreamers to pursue conditional permanent residency and eventual citizenship, but would not allow them to petition for family members to receive permanent residency. Republican Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma are the two other lawmakers behind the bill.

“I’ve said all along that we need a workable, permanent solution for the Dreamer population,” Hatch told reporters Monday. “This bill provides that solution.”

Durbin said Democrats are studying the Republican-backed bill, and he is planning to meet with Tillis and Lankford next week to discuss it.

“There are several aspects of this bill that are very problematic and very difficult for us to accept,” Durbin said. “It is true that they start by looking to a category of Dreamers, it is not as expansive as our category, and it’s true that they end up with citizenship, although it’s a longer period of time and there are things that they add to the citizenship, which would be fundamentally unacceptable,” he said. “Having said that, I’m going to sit down with both of them, with Sens. Tillis and Lankford, and talk through what they’re trying to achieve. I’m not going to miss any opportunity to find Republican support if that support is for a measure that we consider to be consistent with the principles of the Dream Act.”

Cortez Masto said Nevada’s economy would lose $585 million a year if DACA recipients are deported. There are about 800,000 DACA participants nationwide, and more than 12,000 in Nevada.

“This first step in fixing our broken immigration system is to pass the Dream Act,” she said, noting she’s also supporting legislation that seeks to protect the privacy of Dreamers’ information.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., is one of the Democrats signing onto a discharge petition to force a vote on the House’s version of the Dream Act, which now has 200 co-sponsors. The petition would allow the bill to hop past committee to the floor.

The Senate’s version of the Dream Act would need support from 12 Republicans for it to pass to the House. Durbin said four Republicans are currently supporting the bill.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., on Wednesday did not say whether he supports the Dream Act but did again point to his co-sponsorship of the Bridge Act, another piece of legislation seeking to provide Dreamers with relief.

“I have had conversations in the past with Sen. Heller and as you know he signed onto the Bridge Act,” Cortez Masto said. “We’ll continue to have conversations with him about his support of the Dream Act, and particularly coming from Nevada, why it’s so important to support our families and the Dreamers.”

While GOP leaders in Congress appear to be focused on tax reform, it’s unclear when or if any of the immigration legislation that’s been discussed so far will actually land on an agenda. Renewal applications are due Oct. 5 for DACA participants whose benefits expire between between Sept. 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018, a deadline that Durbin said is motivating supporters to act quickly.

Durbin said Dream Act supporters are working toward movement on the bill before Dec. 8, when lawmakers have to move spending bills and a number of other issues. He said the hope is to beat that deadline, which is essentially the last date lawmakers might consider the bill this year.

“We’re looking for the right bill that must pass … that we would send over to the House,” Durbin said.

As at least three proposals to relieve DACA recipients compete for space in Congress, Contreras said Wednesday that he as a young immigrant appreciates the bipartisan efforts in Congress.

“I really, really do appreciate that people from both sides of the government are coming together,” he said. “Democrats and Republicans alike are setting aside a lot of differences to help us out and are setting aside their differences to do what’s right by us.”