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House Democrats propose offering 2 million immigrants the chance to apply for U.S. citizenship

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the introduction of the "Dream and Promise Act." a bill to protect Dreamers and TPS recipients. (Video: Reuters)

House Democrats presented a broad immigration proposal Tuesday that would allow more than 2 million immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship, including “dreamers” and those with temporary work permits who could soon face deportation under Trump administration policies.

The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 comes two months after Democrats took control of the House and a day after the White House announced a budget proposal that would put billions of dollars toward a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and would increase immigration enforcement and border security.

The bill would offer green cards and a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children or teenagers — those known as “dreamers” — and to people now in the country on temporary permits that prevent them from being deported.

In announcing the measure, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) invoked President Ronald Reagan, a Republican who signed an immigration amnesty law in 1986. She said it is important to grant citizenship to immigrants who have long lived in the United States and “who are American in every way.”

“There should be nothing partisan or political in this legislation,” she said Tuesday.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security and the lead sponsor of the bill, along with Reps. Nydia M. Velázquez and Yvette D. Clarke, both Democrats from New York, said Pelosi has flagged the legislation as one of her top concerns.

“It’s a big priority for our caucus,” Roybal-Allard said in an interview. “There is a lot of support for the dreamers from both sides of the aisle.”

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The legislation faces significant hurdles from the GOP-controlled Senate and from President Trump ahead of a 2020 election season that is expected to include continued robust debate about U.S. immigration policy.

It is unclear how many immigrants would benefit from the legislation, but congressional aides said the number of dreamers probably would be similar to the 2.1 million people who would have been covered under a bipartisan Senate measure that was proposed in 2017, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

That estimate is more than three times the 674,900 immigrants enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as of February. Trump criticized the Obama administration’s program as a way to skirt Congress and ended it in 2017.

But lawsuits ultimately resulted in blocking the president from rescinding DACA work permits, and the Supreme Court could take up the issue later this year. Democrats say they will refuse to include the legislation in budget negotiations.

The bill also would cover people with temporary protected status, which has allowed people from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and other countries to avoid being deported to nations engulfed in war or affected by natural disasters. A smaller group of Liberians that has been granted Deferred Enforced Departure also would be protected. Trump also has sought to end these protections, spurring lawsuits that halted at least one of the efforts.

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Although many immigrants have lived in the United States for decades with protected status, more than 417,000 who had the status as of November are not eligible to apply for citizenship.

The bill lays out different paths to citizenship for dreamers and those with temporary status.

Dreamers would be able to apply for 10-year conditional green cards if they came to the United States when they were 17 or younger and if they have lived in the country for at least four years, among other requirements. They would be able to obtain full green cards after completing at least two years of postsecondary education or military service, or after working for three years.

Immigrants would not be allowed to apply if they have been convicted of crimes punishable by more than a year in prison or if they have been convicted of three or more offenses that carry sentences of more than 90 days in jail.

The measure also calls for dreamers to be allowed to apply for federal financial aid to pay for college and to apply to return to the United States if they were previously deported but meet all the other requirements.

Immigrants with temporary protected status or deferred deportations could immediately apply for green cards if they have been in the country for at least three years, had their status as of September 2016 and pass background checks.

Five years after obtaining a green card, both groups could apply for citizenship.

Trump had endorsed a path to citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million or so dreamers in early 2018, but the White House demanded it be paired with other hard-line measures such as slashing legal immigration by 40 percent, closing “loopholes” to speed up deportation and $25 billion in border wall funding. A White House-backed bill was defeated in the Senate in February 2018, along with three other proposals that would have provided citizenship to that population. Immigration hawks, including influential conservative talk-show hosts, have vehemently opposed providing citizenship to dreamers or other undocumented immigrants.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who co-sponsored a mammoth 2013 immigration bill that passed the Senate but failed to make headway in the House, said Tuesday that it is impossible to pass a stand-alone immigration bill in Congress because it would be drowned in amendments.

“That’s why dealing with immigration’s been so difficult,” he told reporters in the Capitol. “You’re never going to get a clean vote on any immigration issue because everyone’s got something on immigration they want, and they’ll use that as a vehicle to try to amend it, and then the bills fall apart.”

The former presidential candidate added that he thinks Trump would be “very open” to a bill aiding dreamers and longtime immigrants in exchange for heightened enforcement.

“But the key that unlocks that door is getting immigration enforcement in place in a way that allows us to move forward on those other things,” he said.

Democrats have refused to allow those trade-offs, arguing that it would protect young immigrants but increase their parents’ and relatives’ risks of being deported.