We break down what DACA is and what it could mean for thousands of immigrants.
WASHINGTON â€” The debate in Congress over the fate ofÂ â€œDREAMersâ€ began with a bang Tuesday â€”Â with a GOP congressman trying to force a House vote on legislation to shield the nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican who represents suburban Denver, plans to make an end-run around House GOP leaders by filing a â€œdischarge petitionâ€ on the Bridge Act, a bipartisan bill that would grant DREAMers legal status for three years.
It’s a rarely used legislative maneuver that allows lawmakers who can gather enough of their colleagues’Â signatures to call up legislation for a House vote. The House legislative schedule is normally controlled by the House majority’s leadership.
Coffman’s move comes after the Trump administration announced it would windÂ down the Obama-era program designed to protect DREAMers, the undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and who have spent most of their lives here. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Obama program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), wasÂ an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”Â
The White House said it would delay implementation of the new policy, giving Congress six months to find a solution before the DREAMers would be in danger of deportation.Â Â
Trump winds down DACA program, gives Congress 6 months to act
DACA fix could ‘overwhelm’ CongressÂ
Most Republicans agree that Obama overstepped his power in allowing those immigrants to study and work legally in the U.S. But the GOP is deeply divided over how to address the status of DREAMers.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for example,Â wants to address DACA as part of large immigration reform package while House Speaker Paul Ryan is hoping to find legislative â€œconsensus.â€ Arizona’s other GOP senator, Jeff Flake, says Congress should “pass permanent, stand-alone legislationâ€ that keeps dreamers in the U.S.
Immigration hardliners, meanwhile, have called for the DREAMers to be deported and said any fix would be tantamount to “amnesty.” Iowa Congressman Steve King, an immigration hawk, suggestedÂ sending the DREAMers back so they can become â€œgreat Peace Corp volunteers in home countries.â€™
Whether Ryan and other GOP leaders will risk igniting their conservative base to take up a DACA fix is unclear. But Coffman, whose district is more than 20% Latino, is prepared to force their hand.
HeÂ will need at least 23 other Republican House members â€”Â along with all House Democrats â€” to join him in signing the petition.
“We definitely believe that the Bridge Act has good prospects of getting through Congress” if it gets to the House floor, said CoffmanÂ spokesmanÂ Kyle Kohli.
Among those likely to join is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Miami who opposes deportation of the DREAMers.
“Why deport 800k young people from country they know and love? #SoFla would be among those hurt worst by such a terrible act,” she tweeted Monday.
Kohli said Coffman informed GOP leaders of his plan, includingÂ aides to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., but he didn’t say whether Ryan gave him the green light.Â
“He told (GOP leadership staff)Â he wasnâ€™t asking for permission,” Kohli said.
Ryan said on Tuesday that he wants Congress to come up with a legislative fix for the DREAMers, but he has not endorsed any specific proposal.Â
AshLee Strong, Ryanâ€™s spokeswoman, declined to address Coffmanâ€™s plan to file a discharge petition or to say what specific legislative solution the speaker would support.
“It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the presidentâ€™s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can stillÂ contribute as a valued part of this great country,” Ryan said in a statement Tuesday.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was even more vague in his comments on what legislative fix, if any, he would support.Â
“This Congress will continue working on securing our border and ensuring a lawful system of immigration that works,” McConnell said in a statement that praised Trump’s decision to kill the DACA program.
Trump told reporters Tuesday he’s optimistic Congress will reach a reasonable compromise:
“I have a great heart for these folks we’re talking about. A great love for them and people think in terms of children but they’re really young adults. I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.”
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the president essentially has forced Congress to act because lawmakers cannot abandon the DREAMers. Â Â
“The clock is ticking,” Durbin said. “Weâ€™re now in a countdown toward deportation for 780,000 protected by DACA today. For those young men and women across America, I can tell you this is a moment of great concern, great fear and great anxiety about whatâ€™s going to happen to their lives.”Â
Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Tuesday they would renew their push for the Dream Act, a bipartisan bill that would to give permanent legal status to the DREAMers who pass background checks and meet other conditions. Graham said Trump needs to “help us” by lobbying lawmakers to pass a fix. Â
“You talk very glowingly about these kids,” Graham said to Trump. “Get involved personally, work the phones, try to find a consensus here.”Â
McCain, meanwhile, said he’ll be working with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle “to devise and pass comprehensive immigration reform, which will include the DREAM Act.”
Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who also opposed Obama’s executive action protecting DREAMers from deportation but said he backs “accommodating” them, wants more direction from the administration.
“It is important that the White House clearly outline what kind of legislation the president is willing to sign,” he said. “We have no time to waste on ideas that do not have the votes to pass or that the president wonâ€™t sign.â€
Trump on Tuesday offered no specific plan, just an admonition to lawmakers to “do your job” on DACA.Â
A link has been posted to your Facebook feed.
Kathia Ramirez, right, holds her son Rowen Salinas, 11 months, as her husband Randy Salinas holds their daughter Fridah Salinas, 2, during a protest in favor of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in front of the Texas Attorney General’s office in Pharr, Texas. Ramirez, 24, was brought to the U.S. when she was 7-years old, her husband and children are all U.S. citizens. Â
Nathan Lambrecht, The Monitor via AP