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House approves immigration bill protecting Dreamers; it faces bleak future in Senate

House Democrats pushed through an immigration bill on Tuesday; only 7 Republicans — none from Illinois — voted yes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, at the podium, join other House Democrats, “Dreamers” and others before the House passed an immigration bill facing a bleak future in the Senate.
Photo by Lynn Sweet

WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday approved a measure to offer legal protections to “Dreamers” and others — youths brought to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own — with bills authored by Democrats stalled because of a blockade in the GOP-run Senate.

The Senate is a “legislative black hole,” Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., a physicist, told me.

“The Senate has become an empty chamber, a legislative graveyard,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on the Senate floor hours before the House vote, throwing darts at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Durbin was the force behind creation of the Dreamer movement and has been crusading to protect these youths for more than 17 years. He was in the House for the vote.

House Democrats, in charge of the chamber since January, put a priority on passing H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 that would, if law, provide a path to citizenship for more than 2 million undocumented immigrants — “Dreamers” and those with Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Enforcement Departure holders.

“In the Senate, its future is very uncertain because of the conduct and pattern of Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority there stifling just about every piece of legislation that has come out of the House this session,” freshman Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., told me.

The measure passed 237-187 on the strength of Democratic support with only seven Republican ayes. All five GOP House members from Illinois voted no: Reps. Adam Kinzinger; Darin LaHood; John Shimkus; Rodney Davis; and Michael Bost.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., told me, “I don’t think the fight is over” in the Senate, that is, once Republican senators are back home for the August break and hear from voters.

“The August recess may change their minds,” she said.


Garcia, who replaced former Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a national leader on immigration, is making immigration policy a centerpiece of his agenda.

Garcia led a drive, in the end unsuccessful, to put in the bill amendments to ban using gang databases — which contain unproven allegations of gang membership — and juvenile court convictions as factors in determining if an illegal immigrant would be allowed to legally remain in the U.S.

As a Cook County Board member, Garcia led the successful fight to shut down the countywide gang database. Garcia is also pushing for the Chicago Police Department to eliminate what he argues amounts to racial profiling in its gang database.

The gang database ban, wildly popular among immigration activists in deep blue Chicago and other safe Democratic turf, is radioactive for Democrats in tough swing districts because its inclusion — fair or not — would have been used by Republicans to further accuse them of being soft on crime.

During his 2018 campaign and in the White House, President Donald Trump has been demonizing immigrants — at the Mexican border seeking entry to the U.S. — and those in the U.S. illegally as gang members.

Before the vote, the office of Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was circulating a memo saying it was a “fact” that “H.R. 6 fast-tracks dangerous gang members to green cards.”

Another GOP House leader, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., said in a statement after the vote, the Democratic measure is “mass amnesty for millions, including gang members and other criminals.”

Garcia told me, “I think it is important to signal that when we talk about immigration it can’t automatically raise the specter of gangs and gang databases. That is racial, ethnic profiling.”

Garcia added that it was “Trumpism,” the “effort to equate immigrants with criminals.”

The intra-Democratic debate over gang databases continues, to be fought another day.

Said Garcia, “We took action as soon as we could. There are always compromises in a body as diverse as the U.S. House, and in part this reflects that.”

The Dream bill is one of a series of measures the House Democrats are passing — on prescription drug costs, protecting voting rights, locking in health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and on Tuesday, on immigration — that will serve as a platform for Democrats to run on in 2020.