WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) — With a handful of Republican votes, House Democrats passed the latest version of the DREAM Act, an ambitious expansion of a nearly two-decades-long legislative effort that would place millions of young undocumented immigrants and immigrants with temporary status on a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
The Democratic-led chamber approved the sweeping immigration bill, dubbed the DREAM and Promise Act of 2019, by a vote of 237 to 187, sending the legislation to the Republican-controlled Senate, which is unlikely to consider it. The White House has also issued a veto threat against the measure.
Seven Republicans in the House joined 230 Democrats in voting for the bill. No Democrats voted against the measure.
The proposal would grant young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, including those shielded from deportation by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an opportunity to acquire permanent lawful status if they meet certain requirements. The bill would also allow hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients — as well as Liberian immigrants covered by Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) — to gain permanent residency.
"There hasn't been a vote on a bill like this since 2010, so it is a big deal," Bruna Bouhid, a 27-year-old DACA recipient told CBS News, referring to the last time a chamber in Congress passed a version of the DREAM Act, which was first introduced in 2001. "Our communities have been fighting for this for a really long time."
Bouhid, who came to the U.S. from Brazil when she was 7, said the bill's passage sends a clear message to Congress that immigrants, including those like her who could face deportation if their protections end, will only support proposals to legalize their status if they do not include more funding for immigration enforcement agencies, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
"You have an administration that proactively killed DACA, TPS and DED to put these communities at risk of deportation. They've been hellbent on using ICE and CBP to go after our communities," she added.
Despite the bill's bleak prospects in the Senate, House Democrats believe the passage of one of their signature legislative issues will convey to the electorate that they continue using their majority to push through legislation, even during a tense standoff with the White House and increasing talk of a possible impeachment inquiry against President Trump.
"This is a day that glorifies what America is to the world. A place of refuge, a place of safety, a place of opportunity," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said at a press conference before the vote, citing a speech in which Republican President Ronald Reagan said the U.S. is a "better nation" because of immigrants.
"We will send it to the Senate and then we'll keep on keeping on until it is the law of the land," Hoyer added.
The legislation — spearheaded by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Nydia Velázquez and Yvette Clarke — would grant DACA recipients and other young undocumented immigrants conditional U.S. permanent residency for 10 years if they meet certain criteria. To be eligible, immigrants must have been younger than 18 when they came to the U.S., and must have lived in the U.S. continuously over the previous four years. They must also have an American high school diploma or GED and pass a background check. Those who have committed serious crimes would be ineligible.
To be placed on a pathway to citizenship under the bill, these young immigrants must earn a college degree or complete two years of a degree program in an institution of higher education or technical school. They would also qualify if they served honorably in the military or have been employed in the U.S. for more than three years.
The proposal would also grant this group of young undocumented immigrant access to federal financial aid for college.
DED and TPS recipients, meanwhile, would be able to obtain permanent residency if they have resided in the U.S. for more than three years before the proposed legislation is enacted and if they do not have any felony convictions or more than one misdemeanor.
The bill would also make it more difficult for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to end TPS designations for countries, as the Trump administration has sought to do. Since the president was sworn in, his administration tried to terminate TPS protections for more than 300,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Sudan, Nepal and Nicaragua. The administration's efforts, however, have been hampered by court rulings.
Since the fall of 2017, the White House has also tried to dismantle the DACA program, instituted by President Obama in 2012 through executive action. Four circuit courts, however, have blocked the government from completely dismantling the program, and the Supreme Court this week denied a Justice Department request to fast-track the high court's consideration of the legal battle surrounding DACA.
The government currently allows more than 700,000 DACA recipients, commonly referred to as DREAMers, to renew their protections for a period of two years.