The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that prevents immigrants who came to the U.S. as young children from being deported and gives them permanent residency along with a path to citizenship, fulfilling a major campaign promise without the drama that sank Miami Republicans when they tried to find an immigration compromise last year.
The bill also prevents the deportations of Temporary Protected Status recipients — a top priority for South Florida lawmakers — after the Department of Homeland Security tried to end the program for Haitians, Hondurans, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans, and allows them to apply for permanent resident status.
“It’s a promise that we made. Elect us, and we will pass the bill,” said Miami Rep. Donna Shalala. “It’s a big issue for me because I’ve educated so many Dreamers, graduated them, had them in class. They’re my neighbors. It’s the first step to a larger conversation. It’s a solid first step because it’s not just Dreamers, it’s TPS and in Florida’s 27th district, TPS is also a significant step.”
A year ago, three Miami Republicans vowed to protect young immigrants known as Dreamers who enrolled in a program called DACA started by former President Barack Obama after President Donald Trump announced his intention to end it. They were willing to buck party leaders to do it, but their effort failed. The immigrants remain in limbo, protected from potential deportation by court orders.
Now, House Democrats united behind the Dream Act, as 232 of the 235 Democrats in the House co-sponsored the bill. The final vote was 237-187. Some Republicans also joined Democrats in voting for the bill, including Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart.
Last year, Diaz-Balart and former Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen first tried to pass a bill with the support of Democrats over the objections of then House Speaker Paul Ryan, but that effort came up two Republican votes short. Then, the Miami Republicans attempted to compromise with conservatives, offering up a bill that would have given DACA recipients a complicated path to citizenship in exchange for $25 billion for a border wall and limits on legal immigration.
But conservatives balked at the proposal, while Democrats refused to approve border wall money and legal immigration limits, and the effort failed.
Despite voting in favor of Tuesday’s bill, Diaz-Balart ripped the approach by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass a bill that doesn’t offer money for border security, calling it a “show vote.” He said Republicans were not consulted about the bill and that it will go nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate.
“I’ve supported every version of this for a million years but... it was done purposely in a way to make sure that it doesn’t become law and that’s unfortunate and that’s really sad,” Diaz-Balart said. “You bring people’s hopes and expectations up knowing purposely that it will never see the light of day.”
Miami Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who defeated Curbelo last year, said the two parties have different sets of values on the immigration issue, and there’s no disagreement among Democrats.
“We all understand that immigrants make this country what it is today and we have young Dreamers that have been here for most of their lives and they deserve a path to legalization and citizenship,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “I think we’re all on the same page and we share the same values.”
Shalala described Tuesday’s bill as a “clean” approach to the DACA issue, but Senate Republicans are unlikely to take up the bill without significant changes.
“I think people would be interested, but I don’t think we’re going to pass anything unless it includes border security,” said Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott. “I think the first thing you’ve got to do is secure the border. It’s not a tradeoff for me, I’m supportive of it, I just don’t think there’s an appetite for doing a half measure. I think we ought to be doing DACA and TPS at the same time.”
Last year, the Senate also voted on four immigration bills and all of them failed to receive the 60 votes necessary for passage.
California and Texas have the largest chunk of the country’s 590,000 DACA recipients, as a majority of them are from Mexico. Florida has about 27,000 DACA recipients and about 11,000 of them reside in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. South Florida is home to the country’s largest Haitian and Nicaraguan communities that would also benefit from a bill that prevents deportations and provides permanent residency for TPS recipients.
But the House bill does not include TPS for Venezuelans who are in the United States, as the legislation only pertains to countries that are currently a part of the program. A separate bill expanding TPS for Venezuelans is working its way through Congress with support from South Florida Democrats and Republicans, and the Trump administration has signaled an openness for expanding the program to Venezuela.
“Hopefully we’ll get a vote in the next few weeks,” Mucarsel-Powell said.