The United States Senate begins debate this week on immigration reform for the special category of undocumented immigrants brought to this country by their parents, known as Dreamers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) agreed to a rare, open floor debate allowing both Republicans and Democrats equal opportunity to offer complete bills and amendments in attempt to build a 60 vote consensus. Because neither party has 60 members of the Senate, any bill that passes must be a bipartisan compromise.
Procedurally, Leader McConnell will use a bill already passed by the House to serve as the vehicle for Senate negotiations. This bill, if successfully amended by the Senate, will go back to the House. The House then has the option for either an up-or-down vote or to force a conference committee to work out differences between the chambers.
The White House released a four-part framework for immigration reform several weeks ago, and we expect the President and White House staff to be active participants in this week’s negotiations.
Bills up for consideration
On Monday evening the Senate voted to begin debate on immigration. In a single week, the Senate will debate one of the most difficult issues of this political moment. There are a number of proposals that have already been introduced over the last several months.
We expect the Senate debate to be largely informed by the following proposals:
- Secure and Succeed Act: This bill is essentially the White House’s four-part immigration reform framework in legislative text. No Democrats support the bill, and many Republicans raised concerns about elements of the bill as well. It is sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) and Senators Thom Tillis (R–N.C.) and James Lankford (R–Okla.).
- USA Act: The Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act is a bipartisan bill that would create a multi-year path to citizenship with conditional permanent resident status granted automatically to DACA recipients. The bill also implements smart technology border security measures and increases the number of immigration judges and attorneys. It is sponsored by Rep. Will Hurd (R–Tex.) and Pete Aguilar (D–Calif.) in the House, and Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D–Del.) in the Senate.
- “Clean” DREAM Act: The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was first introduced in 2001, reintroduced in 2017, and would create a clean path to citizenship for this special category of immigrants. This bill is mainly supported by Democrats, with a few Republican co-sponsors. It is sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.)
- Common Sense Coalition: A bipartisan group of Senators have been meeting for weeks in search of a solution somewhere between the DREAM Act and the White House four-pillar framework. The specifics are unclear, but we expect this group to introduce a proposal this week. The informal meetings are hosted by Republican Senator Susan Collins (R–Maine).
Other bills along this spectrum may be introduced as well. Several working groups in the Senate searched for a compromise for months. We expect a number of bills to be floated this week in an effort to find a compromise that can earn 60 votes in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the House is actively considering proposals as well. Some conservatives in the House are pushing Republican House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R–Va.), Securing America’s Future Act. This bill is a wide-ranging immigration reform proposal seeking to cut legal immigration by overhauling visa categories, interior enforcement, and border security. It does not provide a permanent solution for Dreamers, only a three year work authorization, and has no Democratic support.
ERLC’s policy priorities
The ERLC’s immigration priorities for this debate remain providing a permanent solution for eligible Dreamers, ensuring America’s border is secure, and maintaining the integrity of families. Within a complex legislative debate, there will be issues within our agenda and various others on which we are neutral. Central to our vision for reform is a rejection of the idea that our commitment to both Christian compassion and respect for the rule of law are irreconcilable. As a country, we advocate for a fair and just solution for these undocumented young men and women, not just because it is the “right thing to do,” but because it accords with biblical principles.
There are a number of issues we anticipate will surface during the Senate debate. Here are the key issues we will track:
- Permanent solution for Dreamers. ERLC supports proposals that seek to provide a path to permanent legal status or citizenship for this special category of undocumented immigrants. We recognize that Dreamers are a special category because they broke no law and committed no offense. Subjecting them to deportation or lives of perpetual insecurity in the shadows of our communities is an offense to both the rule of law and a biblical pattern of justice.
- Border security. ERLC supports Congress taking seriously their responsibility to uphold the rule of law by supplying the resources needed to secure the border. The federal government bears a God-given responsibility to ensure the security of our nation. Border security is a critical component to reforming our immigration system so that our country is less vulnerable to illegal immigration moving forward.
- Changes to family-based immigration policies. As with any policy issue, the ERLC believes the final immigration package ought to be pro-family. Therefore, we are concerned about calls to end so-called “chain migration,” which is a misleading way to characterize our nation’s family reunification system. Proposals already floated would make a range of changes, from minor tweaks to wholesale elimination of the family preference categories. We have serious concerns about removing parents and adult children from eligible family preference categories. The biblical command for children to honor their father and mother is a lifelong familial responsibility. In the same way God calls parents to care for their growing children, he also calls children to care for their aging parents. We believe American policy should promote the flourishing of families because family is necessary for the social and economic health of each of us individually.
- Enhanced interior enforcement. Some proposals would provide funding for dramatically increased numbers of ICE agents. While ERLC does not object to this proposal in the abstract, we have concerns about interior enforcement proposals that go beyond the issue at hand: providing a solution for Dreamers. Additional ICE agents is a proposal aimed at deporting non-Dreamer undocumented immigrants and is better situated in a comprehensive immigration reform package, not a narrow solution for Dreamers.
- Additional immigration judges: The U.S. immigration system is heavily overburdened with thousands of cases clogging the dockets. This backlog is an impediment to the American ideal of due process. ERLC understands the need for additional immigration judges and agrees that this funding would lead to greater efficiency in providing people their day in court.
- Diversity visa lottery. While ERLC holds no position on the visa lottery, we would be encouraged if these visas are re-allocated to clear long waiting lines in a way that maintains the aims of diversity and inclusion of people from underrepresented countries.
The week ahead
ERLC’s D.C. staff continues to engage Senate and Administration leaders to work for a bipartisan solution for Dreamers and reforms to a broken immigration system. The unusual Senate procedure will make for a fast-paced week. Follow our ERLC staff on Twitter for updates throughout the week as the debate unfolds.