Article Jun 15, 2018

What you need to know about the House debate on immigration

Next week, the House of Representatives will consider two bills that could determine the future of immigration policy and its key issues, including border security and the citizenship status of Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children. The bills were introduced by Speaker Paul Ryan in order to prevent a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats from bringing a “discharge petition” to the floor that would have forced votes on key immigration issues, including the future of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.  

What is “DACA”?  

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—DACA—was created by President Obama to provide deferred action for certain people who came to the United States as children by allowing them to remain and legally work or attend college in the U.S. for a period of two years, subject to renewal. In September 2017, the Trump Administration expressed its desire to end the DACA program to protect employment opportunities for native-born Americans and prevent illegal immigration, calling instead for a focus on increased border security.  

What is a “discharge petition”?  

Discharge petition” is the term for a procedural method of bringing a bill to the floor of the House of Representatives without the approval of the Speaker or a specific Congressional committee. A discharge petition requires 218 signatures—half of all congressional representatives—in order to pass and force the House to consider the particular bill or bills.   When Speaker Ryan announced the two new bills on Tuesday, the discharge petition on immigration needed only two additional signatures to pass. The House’s decision to finally address immigration issues in these two bills resulted in several key congressmen withdrawing their signatures from the discharge petition, preventing it from passing by Tuesday’s deadline.  

Why did Speaker Ryan oppose the discharge petition?  

The discharge petition, if passed, would have forced the House to consider four different proposals concerning the future of the DACA program, which allows millions of Dreamers to work or attend college in the U.S. without fear of deportation. The discharge petition came after over nine months of debate but no action in the House and Senate regarding to a solution for DACA.  

Many Democrats and moderate Republicans have voiced a strong desire that any proposed bill include a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Under a specific provision of their discharge petition, whichever of the four proposals received the most votes would pass, meaning that a decision on DACA would have been guaranteed.  

What are the details of the two new immigration bills?  

Speaker Ryan was able to halt the discharge position by proposing two new immigration bills, so the next step will be for the House to consider those bills next week. The first bill is known as “The Goodlatte bill,” as it was drafted by Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The Goodlatte bill is a proposal in the House that is focused on a decrease in legal immigration and a significant increase in immigration enforcement measures. The second bill, which is being coordinated with House GOP leadership, is expected to be a conservative consensus alternative to the discharge petition.  

The Goodlatte bill does not include a permanent path to citizenship or even a permanent guarantee of legal status for Dreamers. The bill only offers DACA recipients a three-year extension of their DACA status. In exchange, the bill calls for dramatic changes to the American immigration system, including harsh new enforcement penalties and a decrease in legal immigration numbers. The bill is also expected to contain some funding for a wall on the southern border. It is also expected to contain a provision mandating that employers use a process called E-Verify to ensure that potential employees are in the country legally.  

The consensus bill provides a permanent path to citizenship for DACA recipients and provides approximately $25 billion in funding for a wall on the southern border. The bill would also reform the legal immigration system by creating a new merit-based visa system. The new visas for this system come from the reallocation of portions of the family-based immigration preference categories and the diversity visa lottery. The bill also makes several changes to increase immigration enforcement.  

What is the ERLC’s position on the discharge petition and the two bills before Congress?  

The ERLC is encouraged that there will be substantive debate on these important immigration issues, but we have significant concerns with both bills and are working to resolve those concerns.  

The ERLC believes that Congress must find a permanent solution to the immigration issue that treats Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants with the respect and dignity that all people are entitled to. Dreamers have come into this country under circumstances out of their control and, as such, it would be unfair to hold them responsible for the actions of others. The Bible is clear that we do not hold children accountable for the actions of their parents.  

As a result, the ERLC supports a path to citizenship for eligible Dreamers. Many of these Dreamers have become valuable contributors to society, with jobs and families here in America. God has ordained the family as a foundational institution of our society and separating these Dreamers from their families hinders this foundational institution, often leading to poverty and increased crime. Our immigration policy ought to be pro-family by prioritizing the importance of the family unit, keeping families together, and allowing families to be reunited.  

The ERLC also strongly advocates for effective border security. God designed our government to protect His people, and ensuring that our borders are safe and secure is a crucial part of that protection. Any solution to the immigration issue must respect the rule of law.  

As the House prepares to debate both bills next week, we hope you will join us in praying for our lawmakers as they approach the difficult task of reaching a solution to this extremely important issue.  

Here are several resources to better understand the recent conversation over immigration and DACA:  

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