In a hearing that both Democrats and Republicans call “key”, the Senate Judiciary Committee will debate on Tuesday two immigration bills approved in March by the House of Representatives, initiatives that among other benefits include a path to citizenship for dreamers, holders of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and agricultural workers.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), who chairs the committee, has said that the bills sent by the Lower House are closer than ever to passing, about four or five Republican votes, but there is no certainty if they will be passed. 50 Democratic senators will approve both bills when they are discussed in plenary.
To make them law, a minimum of 60 votes is required and the Democrats, who have control of the Senate, only have 50. Durbin says he has five or six Republican supporters, but there are at least four Democratic senators whose votes are not guaranteed, being them Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Jon Tester (Montana), and Arizona Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly.
Sinema, along with Republican Senator John Cornyn (Texas), presented a bill in April to respond to the crisis at the border. Although the initiative does not have enough votes to pass, it has become a key negotiating factor for both parties.
On March 18, the House of Representatives approved, with bipartisan support, two bills that regularize the permanence of between 2 and 3 million Dreamers, TPS beneficiaries and farm workers, who would receive a provisional residence conditional for 10 years upon term of which they will be able to request the Permanent Legal Residence (Green Card or green card).
Five years later they will be eligible to become US citizens by naturalization.
Because the project stalled in the preliminary debates, the House of Representatives, with the support of the White House, changed its strategy and chose to move the plans on dreamers, TPS and farmers, and leave the discussion about the future for later. of the rest of the undocumented.
What the democrats say
Democratic sources familiar with the discussions, but who are not authorized to speak on the issue publicly, said negotiations in the Judiciary Committee have shown some progress. However, they warn that the scenario in the short and medium term is “complex.”
They also mention that the White House must divide the investment of political capital in the infrastructure plan of the president, whose negotiations are in a impasse, and immigration reform.
The strategy points out that the priority is focused on Biden’s 2.3 billion infrastructure project, and that one or both of the immigration initiatives approved by the Lower House be unified and included as an amendment in the president’s ambitious plan.
“Everything is in talks,” said the source. And he indicated that at Tuesday’s hearing the Judicial Committee will try to clarify the scenario for both plans.
What the republicans say
The conservative sector of the Republican Party maintains its position. “There will be no votes until the crisis at the border is solved,” said a source who asked to keep his name anonymous.
He added that on multiple occasions “Durbin has promised bipartisan immigration reform, but at the same time he and his (Democratic) party in the House and Senate are acting unilaterally on this and other issues.”
After a pause, he pointed out: “Very difficult an immigration reform without facing the humanitarian crisis on the southern border.”
On the other hand, the moderate Republican sector hopes that at the end of the day “we can work together (both parties) on a project that benefits millions of undocumented immigrants.”
“In our opinion, there is a window for there to be Republican support for an immigration plan that has to do with dreamers, TPS and agricultural workers,” says Wadi Gaytán, spokesperson for La Iniciativa Libre, a conservative group that defines itself as an organization of non-partisan and non-profit base that promotes the principles and values of economic freedom to empower the Hispanic community in the United States.
“At the same time, we see that part of that window has to include the plan of Senators Sinema and Cornyn on security and emergency at the border,” he adds, a bill that Democrats do not mention for now.
Gaitán said that the aforementioned project “creates an opportunity for more judges, makes a more effective and efficient asylum system, and therefore we believe that the conversations that are taking place with Senators Durbin and (Lindsey) Graham (Republican of South Carolina) are productive ”.
In 2013, Durbin and Graham were part of the so-called Group of Eight that drafted the immigration reform plan S.744, which included a path to legalization for the majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. The project, however, was stopped by the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives on the grounds of national security.
The dreamers, undocumented young people who entered the United States before their 16th birthday and are known as dreamers, say that Tuesday’s hearing will allow them to know who supports the bills sent by the House of Representatives and who does not.
“We are going to find out which side the legislators are on,” says José Muñoz, spokesman for United We Dream (UWD), one of the main dreamer organizations in the country. “
“We have learned that many of them (Republicans) have said many times that ‘we need to pass a law to protect DACA’, but although they say they want to help us, they have not given their contribution to make an initiative law,” he added.
Muñoz also says that “if they don’t do it this time, they will once again put thousands on the deportation bench. They have the power to do it. And if they don’t, we are confident that the Democratic leadership will use the reconciliation process. “
This Tuesday’s hearing coincides with the 9th Anniversary of the 2012 Executive Action for Childhood Arrivals signed by then-President Barack Obama, a program that deferred the deportation of some 800,000 thousand Dreamers and granted them a renewable temporary work permit.
“We also remember on this Anniversary that the DACA program is pending a decision by a federal court in Texas,” says Juan Escalante, director of digital campaigns for FWD.us, a lobby group made up of leaders from the technology community. “The program is still in jeopardy,” he said.
The program was sued in 2018 by nine states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia), who allege that the benefit uses state resources for education and health, and violates federal law. immigration.
The decision is in the hands of Judge Andrew Hanen, who in February 2015 prohibited the expansion of the program and the entry into force of DAPA, another similar benefit that delayed the deportation of some 5 million parents undocumented of permanent legal residents and citizens.
The reconciliation process
Cited by Dreamers and also by Democrats and what some call Plan B of immigration reform, it is known as the ‘reconciliation process’, a resource that is used in extreme cases when there is not enough support in the Senate to pass a law with a minimum of 60 votes.
If the talks fail and the instances stipulated in the framework of the ordinary process are exhausted, the Democrats would then take both immigration plans and return them to the Lower House to be included in a third bill, with that “reconciliation” mechanism.
“When a bill or two, as in this case, are not approved because they do not have 60% of the votes of the plenary session, there is this tool that, if approved by the Lower House, when it returns to the Senate in this instance it can be approved with a simple majority, that is 51 votes, ”says Joe Garcia, a former Democratic congressman from Florida.
To pass it, the majority of the House of Representatives must agree, introduce a third bill, add those that have already been approved and put that “package” of laws to the vote. If 217 of the 435 votes of the full House of Representatives are obtained, the plan is approved and sent to the Senate.
As it is a “reconciliation package,” the Upper House will no longer need a majority of 60 votes, “but only a simple majority with 51 votes,” Garcia explained.
This tool was approved by Congress in 1974 to facilitate the passage of certain laws, especially related to spending, public debt and taxes.