The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed two immigration bills that would provide a path to legal status, permanent residency, and citizenship for illegal immigrants.
The Democrat-majority chamber voted 228-197 on the American Dream and Promise Act, H.R. 6, where nine Republicans joined all Democrats to support the bill.
The measure, also referred to as the Dreamers bill, would offer conditional legal status for 10 years to “Dreamers” up to 18 years old. The term refers to those who entered the United States illegally as children and are still living in the country. They would have to have graduated from high school or have achieved similar credentials, and not have serious criminal records, among other conditions.
The Dreamers would be offered permanent residence, also known as a green card, if they have a higher education degree, serve in the military, or have been employed for at least three years. After five years, they would be eligible to apply for citizenship, just like others with green cards.
An estimated 4.4 million illegal immigrants in total could become eligible for permanent residency if the Dreamers bill becomes law, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
The same bill would grant green cards to immigrants who received Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States after having fled their countries hit by civil wars or natural disasters.
The House also passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 1603) by a vote of 247-174 to shield about 1 million illegal immigrant agricultural workers from deportation and offer them a path to legal status. These workers must have worked in the country illegally over the past two years to obtain certified agriculture worker status. This would allow them to stay in the country for five and a half year periods, subject to renewals.
The illegal farm workers would also be able to obtain green cards if they pay $1,000 and work for up to another eight years, depending on how long they have already worked on the farm.
The bill would also make the H-2A guestworker program more flexible for employers, among other measures.
Dim Prospects in Senate
The two bills now proceed to the Senate, where Democrats hold the smallest possible majority. The Dreamers bill would require at least 10 Republican to join all 50 Democrats to break a filibuster.
Democrats said their measures were aimed not at border security but at addressing groups of immigrants who deserve to be helped.
“They’re so much of our country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said of Dreamers, who like many immigrants have held frontline jobs during the pandemic. “These immigrant communities strengthen, enrich, and ennoble our nation, and they must be allowed to stay.”
Republicans have accused Democrats of aggravating the border crisis, saying that the bills provide an incentive for smuggles to sneak more illegal aliens into the United States. They also said that the southern border needs to be secured to reduce the flow of illegal aliens before bringing on new immigration reforms.
Of the Dreamers bill, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said that Democrats were doing “nothing to address cartels who have ownership of our border right now” and are pushing legislation that would prove to be “a magnet for traffic of more children.”
“We don’t know who these people are, we don’t know what their intentions are,” Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) said of immigrant farm workers who might seek legal status. He added, “It’s frightening, it’s irresponsible, it’s endangering American lives.”
Then-President Donald Trump rolled back the Temporary Protected Status program. In 2017, he also rescinded former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program aimed at shielding Dreamers from deportation. Court rulings and the Biden administration have kept DACA in place.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.