Over 200 advocates from around the United States converged on Capitol Hill this week with an 11th-hour mission: persuade lawmakers to provide citizenship to “Dreamer” immigrants who illegally entered the United States as children.
Addinelly Moreno Soto, a 31-year-old communications aide who came to the United States from Mexico at age 3, trekked to the Capitol from San Antonio with her husband on Wednesday hoping to meet with her state’s U.S. Senator John Cornyn. The influential Republican’s support could help advance a deal that has eluded Congress for more than a decade – and which appears likely to fail again this year.
Cornyn could not meet with her and other Dreamer supporters from Texas, she said. One of his staffers told them that Cornyn would need to review the text of any legislation before making a decision.
The end-of-year push comes as a window is nearly closed for Congress to find a compromise to protect Dreamers, many of whom speak English and have jobs, families and children in the United States but lack permanent status.
Supporters of the effort have pushed for Congress to pass the legislation now since Democrats – who overwhelmingly back Dreamers – will cede control of the U.S. House of Representatives to Republicans in January. Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, has said the border must be secured before other immigration issues can be addressed.
About 594,000 Dreamers are enrolled in a 2012 program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants protection from deportation and work permits, but is currently subject to a legal challenge brought by Texas and other U.S. states with Republican attorneys general.
U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat who came to office in 2021, promised during his campaign to protect Dreamers and their families after Republican former President Donald Trump tried to end DACA.
Both Moreno and her husband enrolled in DACA in 2012. They now have two U.S.-citizen boys ages two and three.
“How much longer do we have to prove ourselves – that we are worthy of being here permanently?” Moreno said. “That is the frustrating part. I have children. What about them?”
‘NOT GOING ANYWHERE’
Senators Kyrsten Sinema, an independent from Arizona who recently left the Democratic Party, and Republican Thom Tillis of North Carolina, worked on a plan in recent weeks to combine border restrictions with a path to citizenship for an estimated 2 million Dreamers, according to a framework of possible legislation reviewed by Reuters.
But even some House Democrats have expressed reservations with the framework of the Senate bill.
The Senate is split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote. At least 10 Republicans would need to join Democrats to overcome a procedural hurdle that requires 60 votes to advance legislation in the Senate.
Lawmakers have a narrow timeframe with a little more than a week before Congress is expected to pass a roughly $1.7 trillion spending bill that would serve as a vehicle for the immigration deal, but leading Republicans have said it will not happen.
“It’s not going anywhere,” Cornyn told Reuters this week, offering a more blunt assessment than his staffer.
On Thursday, a Senate aide and three other people familiar with the matter said the Dreamer effort would not advance before the end of the year. The offices of Sinema and Tillis did not respond to requests for comment.
Democratic Senator Alex Padilla of California said it was frustrating and disappointing that the talks had not even progressed into legislation for senators to review.
Senator John Kennedy, a conservative Republican from Louisiana, said his party had lost trust in the president’s willingness to secure the border amid record illegal crossings.
“President Biden’s administration is perfectly content to have the border open,” Kennedy said. “They’re happy to have all those people coming in and everybody knows that.”
A Biden administration official criticized Republicans for “finger-pointing” and attacking Biden’s record “when they themselves refuse to take the actual steps we need from Congress to fix our broken immigration system.”
For Raul Perez, a 33-year-old from Austin, Texas, who came to Washington, the prolonged uncertainty over his and other Dreamers futures was deeply frustrating.
“It’s been over a decade now since DACA came out and we’re still in the same spot,” said Perez, who is part of the immigrant-youth led advocacy group United We Dream. “We need something to pass now. We can’t keep waiting.”
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