Two of three Democrats who have so far refused to sign a discharge petition that would set up votes on immigration legislation in the House this month said Tuesday that they had changed their minds and would support the effort.
Reps. Vicente González and Filemón Vela, who both represent border districts in southern Texas, said Tuesday that they planned to sign the petition after consulting with clergy in their home districts, as well as some of the young undocumented immigrants who could secure legal status under a congressional immigration deal.
Their decision leaves the petition supporters three signatures short of success.
For González and Vela, it’s an about-face after arguing in recent weeks that the discharge petition would only pave the way for a bipartisan immigration deal that would involve funding a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — something both men have fiercely opposed.
“I’m not ever going to be in a position where I’m going to enable or facilitate border wall funding,” Vela said last month. “It’s just not going to happen.”
Both men still say they will vote against any bill that funds a border wall, but they are no longer standing in the way of a broader immigration debate that could ultimately provide legal status for “dreamers” — the young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, some of whom were protected under former president Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and are now at risk for deportation under President Trump.
“No means no, until you talk to the bishop for an hour and a half,” Vela said in a phone interview from his home town of Brownsville, Tex.
Daniel Flores, the Roman Catholic bishop of Brownsville, said in a statement released by the two congressmen that he was “encouraged” by their decision. “These are difficult times for DACA students, living in uncertainty and fear, and I am hopeful that the decision by our elected representatives will help move Congressional action forward,” he said, making a reference to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Still holding out is Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, who represents another Texas border district. Cuellar said in a statement Tuesday that he is seeking “a commitment from Democratic leadership saying that they will not support a border wall” in exchange for legalizing dreamers.
“The construction of a physical wall is an expensive and inefficient use of our taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” he said. “My support for Dreamers and a DACA fix has not wavered, but there are more cost-efficient ways of protecting our borders by increasing technology and employing additional border security personnel.”
Vela said it was not only the bishop’s intervention that helped change his mind but also conversations with dozens of dreamers that he had over the past week while trying to learn more about a Department of Homeland Security detention facility in Brownsville where unaccompanied minors — including some who have been forcibly separated from their parents — are being held.
The decision by González and Vela to sign the petition leaves its proponents three members short of success. House Republican leaders have been frantically trying to head off the effort in the hope of asserting more control over any immigration debate on the House floor, but the petition’s GOP backers said last month that they were confident it would gain enough signatures if the congressional leadership was unable to forge another path to give dreamers permanent legal status in the United States.
House Republicans have scheduled a two-hour meeting Thursday to discuss the issue and try to persuade GOP members to spurn the discharge effort.