Rep. Daniel Lipinski said Wednesday he would support protecting young undocumented immigrants faced with losing their temporary legal status if such legislation reaches the House floor for a vote.
Lipinski’s statement was viewed as a minor breakthrough for Illinois religious and business groups trying to win support for the 800,000 immigrants who were protected under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
President Donald Trump has said he will allow the DACA program to expire March 5. That would leave its recipients, the children of illegal immigrants often known as DREAMers, subject to losing their work permits and to possible deportation. Such an outcome would be an outrage.
Lipinski has been the only Illinois Democrat not committed to supporting DACA. He voted against its forerunner, the DREAM Act, when it was brought to a vote in 2010.
Like his father before him, Rep. Bill Lipinski, the younger Lipinski has hewed to the conservative end of the Democratic Party.
But faced with a likely primary challenge from the party’s progressive wing, Dan Lipinski may be trying to evolve.
“I support DACA if it comes to the floor for a vote,” he told me by phone Wednesday after I sought to clarify his position.
The congressman said he has been working with a bi-partisan group of lawmakers to work out a deal along the lines discussed by Trump and Democratic legislative leaders tying DACA to increased border security.
He said the increased security he favors does not include a border wall or “internal enforcement.”
“I think it makes sense. That’s the way to get this done right now,” Lipinski said.
“But if something is brought to the floor to protect the DACA recipients, I do support that,” he added.
That may be a relatively safe offer for Lipinski to make.
Republican leaders have shown no inclination to move the DACA legislation without other immigration concessions.
Democrats are demanding a “clean bill” on DACA and have recently threatened to withhold Democratic votes from legislation needed to authorize continued federal spending, which could cause a partial government shutdown.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago, in announcing his decision this week not to seek re-election, said he will not vote for the spending authorization until those imperiled by the DACA repeal are protected.
But he seemed skeptical his party’s Congressional leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, will follow through on the threats, suggesting they might be just as happy to let Republicans take the blame for the ensuing mess.
Republicans control a majority in both chambers of Congress but don’t have enough votes to pass the spending measures on their own.
The current funding bill is set to expire Dec. 8.
Regardless of that deadline, immigration activists are pushing hard for a vote before the end of the year to keep the issue from bleeding into the 2018 election season, which could make Republican support even less likely.
In addition to Lipinski, Rep. Peter Roskam, a Republican who represents the western suburbs, has been receiving extra attention. Roskam’s constituents include 2,700 DACA recipients, the most of any Illinois congressional district represented by a Republican.
A group of religious leaders held an hour-long conference call earlier this week with Roskam to seek his support for the DACA legislation. Roskam declined.
“He was very gracious, but he was noncommittal. He said he thinks it has to be tied to increased border security,” said Father Corey Brost, representing Priests for Justice for Immigrants.
On Wednesday afternoon, Roskam was scheduled to speak with Exelon chairman-emeritus John Rowe, who is co-chairman of the Illinois Business Immigration Council.
“I would like to see Peter show a little more courage on this issue,” said Rowe, a Republican who fights for immigration reform as both an economic and moral issue.
Rowe believes that “if the bill just comes to the floor, I think virtually every Illinois congressman will support it.”