US Congress faces long odds on rescue effort for ‘Dreamers’

Protesters calling for an immigration bill addressing the so-called Dreamers, young adults who were brought to the United States as children, walk through the Hart Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. (Reuters pic)

WASHINGTON: Unless the US House of Representatives can beat the legislative odds, America’s young “Dreamer” immigrants will have to keep dreaming about living without fear of deportation.

That was the gloomy outlook on Wednesday in the House for an effort to solve the long-standing issue of the Dreamers that is expected to come to a head next week.

The Dreamers are hundreds of thousands of young people, mostly Hispanic, who illegally entered the country years ago as children and are now protected from deportation by an Obama-era program – known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – that Republican President Donald Trump wants to end.

Congress missed a March 5 deadline Trump set for replacing DACA, which was established in 2012, with a new law to protect the Dreamers. Lawmakers were unable to bridge differences.

In the latest push, House Speaker Paul Ryan plans to bring up two bills for House votes next week, and Republican leaders said they were consulting with the White House. But prospects are not encouraging for either measure.

On Wednesday, former top White House adviser Steve Bannon had breakfast with a group of Republican conservatives, urging them to oppose any immigration bill Ryan might bring up this year because they will include “amnesty” for Dreamers.

Bannon “talked about immigration and amnesty and DACA amnesty and what happens when you let your base down,” said Republican Representative Steve King, adding that he was in agreement.

Trump took a tough stance against immigration in his election campaign, although most Americans feel Dreamers should be helped, according to opinion polls.

White House adviser Stephen Miller travelled to Congress to push for passage of the two bills, according to congressional aides. On Thursday, Ryan is scheduled to address the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast.

But some conservative Republicans are leery of supporting measures that might not pass, one aide said, adding that the lawmakers are looking first for more vocal support from Trump on the bills.

One of the House bills is a hard-line measure from conservative Republicans that Democrats and some Republicans oppose. A similar plan already failed in the Senate. It would sharply reduce legal immigration, build a wall on the Mexican border and deny Dreamers the chance of citizenship.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi put Ryan on notice late Tuesday about the bill. “If Republicans plan to use Dreamers as a way to advance ‪@realDonaldTrump’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant agenda, they will get a fight from House Democrats,” she warned in a tweet, using Trump’s Twitter handle.

The American Civil Liberties Union also lashed out at Ryan’s plan.

“The ultimate goal of the Trump administration and immigration hardliners in Congress is to make it easier to detain and deport children and families” and build a “wasteful and harmful border wall,” the ACLU’s director of immigration policy, Lorella Praeli, said in a statement.

The other bill is aimed at winning just enough Republican support for passage. Details of what it will contain have not been finalized, but Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo said Dreamers would “immediately and permanently be shielded from deportation.”

Democrats said Ryan has not reached out to get their views.

Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday that Republicans were “not making any overtures to get our support in terms of the values that we would share” in legislation.

Even though Republicans control both chambers of Congress, the Democrats’ views matter because they likely have the votes to block any partisan legislation in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is cool to the idea of spending any more time on immigration this year. A February debate on the issue ended with the defeat of four bills.

Some lawmakers want to hold off on immigration legislation pending court decisions later this year on Trump’s bid to end DACA.

Others held out hope of a breakthrough. Curbelo said next week’s House debate could produce a law.

After years of living in fear of deportation, he said, Dreamers would be “indistinguishable from a legal permanent resident of the United States who can travel, work.”

Passage in the House, he predicted, would create “extraordinary” pressure on the Senate to act.