The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Dozens of Republicans are clamoring for a ‘dreamers’ fix by year’s end

Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) said that Congress only has "one shot" at fixing the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients. (Video: Reuters)

Three-dozen Republican lawmakers on Tuesday called on party leaders to help enact a permanent solution for “dreamers” by the end of the year, saying the issue has festered for too long, creating legal and economic uncertainty for young immigrants and the companies that employ them.

The 35 members of the House GOP caucus — 34 representatives and Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member — represent the largest bloc of Republicans to date to publicly voice support for a solution to one of the most emotionally charged elements of the years-long fight over immigration policy.

“They are American in every way except their immigration status,” the group wrote.

Nearly 700,000 dreamers — the children of undocumented immigrants — are protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a Barack Obama-era program that President Trump is ending March 5. He has given Congress until then to enact a permanent solution, or thousands of dreamers could begin facing deportation on a daily basis.

The letter released Tuesday is co-signed by Republicans hailing from districts encompassing immigrant-rich Miami, suburban Philadelphia, New York’s Hudson Valley and rural Illinois. They include senior members of the House GOP caucus, among them Joe Barton (Tex.), Fred Upton (Mich.) and Mike Simpson (Idaho), and several from competitive swing districts, including Ryan Costello (Pa.) and Elise Stefanik (N.Y.). Many of the co-signers are members of the Main Street Caucus, a group of pro-business moderate Republicans.

But the letter writers did not endorse a specific piece of legislation or threaten to withhold support for any other legislation in a bid to resolve the issue. At least four pieces of bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate propose new laws to protect dreamers from deportation and allow them to apply for U.S. citizenship.

“This is not a threat to leadership,” one of the co-signers, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), told reporters, adding later that “we don’t want to just pass legislation that would be popular, we want to pass legislation that would be successful.”

“We should not be using these young people’s lives as political footballs,” Newhouse said.

Here's a look at the "dreamers" whose DACA protections are set to expire. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), who represents a part of inland California that is dependent on migrant farmworkers, added in a statement that dreamers “deserve to have confidence in what their future holds. This is not a partisan issue, and Congress must come together to provide a legislative solution so these individuals may continue to live in the only home they know: the United States.”

The letter of support also could become a critical factor in ongoing talks to pass a spending agreement in the coming weeks, as it confirms what many Democrats and Republicans who support immigration policy reforms have long believed: that there is widespread bipartisan support for changes in immigration laws.

Because Democratic votes are needed to move any spending bill through the Senate, and probably through the House, they have the power to force Republican leaders to accept concessions.

Democrats have yet to lay out how they intend to approach the spending negotiations, but dozens of liberal members are calling on Republicans to use the spending bill to enact permanent legal protections for dreamers and have threatened to withhold support for a spending bill if a solution isn’t enacted.

With dozens of fiscal conservatives also threatening to withhold support for a spending plan, GOP leaders may be forced to cobble together a bipartisan coalition to pass it — and a compromise on dreamers could be the key.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) suggested as much during a speech Tuesday, reminding Republican colleagues that spending legislation needs to pass with at least 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans hold just 52 seats in the Senate.

“Despite the sense of urgency to solve the problem by the end of the year, there’s very little legislative progress to show for it,” Flake said in a floor speech. “The time has come for us to work together to deliver a real solution. We don’t need partisan bills that send a message. We need bipartisan solutions that can pass the Senate.”

Flake confirmed late Monday that he and Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) are working with colleagues in both parties on a potential last-minute solution for dreamers. Flake and Bennet were part of the 2013 “Gang of Eight” that negotiated a bipartisan immigration bill that passed in the Senate but never earned a vote in the House.

Another band of Republican senators on Tuesday unveiled several mostly conservative proposals to address border security issues and a way to legalize dreamers. The Secure Act would boost funding for construction of border walls and fencing; authorize hiring more Border Patrol agents; revamp the e-Verify immigration verification system; and penalize “sanctuary” cities that refuse to work with federal agencies to track, detain and deport undocumented immigrants.

The plan is co-sponsored by Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), John Cornyn (R-Tex.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).