Legal status for Dreamers gets support of nearly 3 dozen House Republicans
Dec. 06--WASHINGTON -- Nearly three dozen House Republicans, including three from California, fired off a warning shot to Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday, saying they have enough votes to join with Democrats to pass legislation to protect young immigrants before Congress adjourns this year.
The 34 Republicans demanded that Ryan put legislation on the House floor that would legalize roughly 800,000 "Dreamers," young immigrants who arrived illegally in the United States as children, who face deportation starting March 5 unless Congress acts.
Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, has at times seemed to support providing legal status for Dreamers but has not moved to advance current bills that address the issue.
"Our goal is to get a lot of new signatures to show the speaker that this is not only something we've got to resolve right now, but something that will have bipartisan support," said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock (Stanislaus County) who for years has sponsored legislation to provide the young immigrants a path to legal status.
The Dreamers, roughly a third of whom reside in California, are now caught in a frenzy of hardball negotiations over the federal budget and a big Republican tax bill. Acting on then-President Barack Obama's promise that they would not be deported if they made themselves known to federal immigration authorities, they now face potential expulsion after President Trump revoked the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA as the policy is known, on Sept. 5 and gave Congress six months -- to March 5 -- to devise a permanent solution.
If the 34 Republicans who signed the letter, including Denham, David Valadao of Hanford (Kings County) and Mimi Walters of Irvine join the 193 current House Democrats they would have more than the 218-vote majority they'd need to pass a bill.
The question is what the legislation would include in a Republican-dominated Congress. Trump in the past has insisted that any deal include funding for a border wall, but that's a nonstarter for Democrats. And while Democrats are united on providing legal status for Dreamers, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has rebelled at any notion of linking the young immigrants to increased border security or internal immigration enforcement, electronic border surveillance or similar measures.
During a visit to her district in September, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, was shouted down by young immigrant protesters angry at her suggestion that border security would be part of a legislative solution for the Dreamers. "We are not a bargaining chip," they chanted.
The incident followed a White House dinner over Chinese food, during which Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said they had secured a promise from Trump to provide Dreamers permanent protection, along with "a package of border security, excluding the wall, that's acceptable to both sides."
But both Valadao and Denham said some form of border security would have to be part of a bill.
"My issue is making sure we can convince members from across the country that we've improved border security and they are able to sell that back to their districts," Denham said. "Every district is different, but I think border security has to be a part of this."
Valadao said both sides "are going to have to compromise. Some sort of border security will ultimately be a component of it." He said Trump could help pull along some Republican immigration hardliners who acknowledge privately that the Dreamer problem needs to be solved.
"The president could play a role in that," Valadao said. "Having the president be supportive would help them move to a yes."
Trump has been a wild card in the debate. He has expressed support for Dreamers, but has reneged on the alleged deal with Pelosi and Schumer.
With a government shutdown looming as early as Friday, Democrats have enormous leverage. Holding only a 52-48 majority in the Senate, Republicans will need them to reach the required 60-vote threshold to pass a spending bill to keep the government running. They may also need to find a way to pull in Democratic votes in the House because some hard-line conservatives may refuse to vote for any spending bill that increases government spending.
Pelosi and Schumer have included protection for young immigrants among a host of issues they want as part of a spending deal. Among the items are disaster aid that would cover the recent Wine Country fires, funding for a children's health insurance program, and increases in domestic spending to match any increases Republicans want for the military. Several Democrats, including California Sen. Kamala Harris, have vowed to oppose a spending bill that does not provide legal status for the young immigrants.
In exchange for his yes vote on their massive tax overhaul bill Saturday, Senate Republicans promised Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., support for legislation to help young immigrants, although they offered no specifics or timeline.
Some Republicans have argued that the Dreamer issue can wait until early next year, because the deportations would not begin until March 5. But Democrats by then would lose the leverage they have now with a government shutdown looming if no spending bill is approved, and election-year politics would probably harden positions on both sides.
Denham said the main urgency is the uncertainty facing many young people now in college or holding jobs under their temporary protected immigration status.
"There's so much disagreement among Republicans it's hard to ferret out what their endgame is," said Pelosi's second-in-command, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
He said he's told Republican leaders who object to putting Dreamer legislation into the spending bill, "Fine ... put it on the floor freestanding, you'll get 300 votes. That's what I think ought to happen."
Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle's Washington correspondent. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @carolynlochhead