WASHINGTON — Congress returns Tuesday to the searing political issue of undocumented immigrant children, known as DREAMers, against the backdrop of midterm elections.
House Republicans are split, with moderates joining Democrats to force a vote on a series of bills dealing with immigration, border security and the status of roughly 800,000 undocumented children who were brought here illegally — including about 14,000 in Nevada.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., said he is working with House GOP leaders to craft a compromise bill on the DREAMers. But if a compromise is not reached, he said he’s ready to “move forward on a full debate” on the floor.
Conservatives in the GOP remain steadfast in their opposition to proposals that would protect undocumented youth from deportation and grant them a path to citizenship — a measure that moderate Republicans favor in exchange for funding for border security.
The moderates, many of whom represent congressional districts with large Latino and minority populations, are backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some GOP donors who seek a resolution.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other GOP leaders have blocked legislation that would extend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program that protected undocumented immigrant youth from deportation.
President Donald Trump ended DACA last September. He gave Congress until March to pass a legislative resolution, but that deadline has come and gone with no action in the House.
Trump’s executive order, meanwhile, is being challenged in the courts.
Support for discharge petition
Denham and Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida have led GOP efforts to join Democrats signing a discharge petition to force a vote in the House on a series of immigration bills.
Twenty-three Republicans have signed on to the petition, and only five more are needed to reach the 218 votes necessary to force a vote. Many of the Republicans who signed on are in competitive congressional races that could decide which party controls the House.
“The big mistake that a lot of members have made here in the name of being good team players is to sit back and trust leaders to solve their problems for them, and that is a major mistake,” Curbelo said.
“Leaders have to carry their own weight; they can’t be babysitting and spoon-feeding people. You need to go out and get what you want,” Curbelo said.
Curbelo’s congressional district is majority Latino, as is the district of Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, another leader of the discharge petition movement.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the Curbelo and Denham races as “toss-ups.” Hurd’s race is rated “leans Republican” but competitive.
Nevada Republican Mark Amodei of Carson City is seeking re-election in Congressional District 2, which includes Reno, Carson City and the northern portion of the state. Only 21 percent of the district’s residents are Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Amodei said he signed the discharge petition not because of political calculations, but because he wants to see the issue resolved.
“I don’t expect to get a single additional vote in my district. In fact, I may lose some,” Amodei said.
Amodei said Ryan has received the message that rank-and-file Republicans in the House are frustrated with inaction and the inability to vote on issues important to constituents.
House leaders were still trying to stave off the discharge petition when the House recessed for the Memorial Day observance and district work week. They have called a members-only meeting for Thursday. The House could vote on bills in the third week of June.
Conservatives are also frustrated. They want Ryan to schedule a vote on an immigration bill by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that would grant only temporary protection for undocumented immigrant youth, cut legal immigration and boost funding for interior enforcement.
Goodlatte said Republicans should back his bill and questioned on “The Ingraham Angle” show on FOX, “Why should we give control to the Democrats?”
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the conservative Freedom Caucus, added that the House could not pass the bipartisan bill “with predominantly Democratic votes.”
Trump wants significant funding for a wall on the Southwest border and has threatened to veto any immigration legislation that comes to his desk without money for the barrier’s construction.
Some Democrats have suggested a compromise that would give DREAMers permanent status in exchange for wall funding.
But three Texas Democrats with border districts said they will withhold their signatures from the discharge petition to prevent a wall being built in their communities.
A defection by just three Democrats would make it that much more difficult for moderate Republicans to get the 218 signatures needed on the discharge petition to force a vote.