Members of the House of Representatives plan to vote on two immigration reform bills this week as a part of President Joe Biden’s sweeping agenda to grant a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people.
The bills are Democrats’ first attempts to see what progress, if any, they can make on immigration under Biden as a wave of migrants and asylum-seekers, many of them unaccompanied children, arrive at the border.
It has been more than three decades since Congress enacted broad immigration reforms, and anything proposed since then has struggled to gain enough support. Biden’s proposed reforms would be the largest legislative overhaul of the U.S. immigration system since Republican President Ronald Reagan’s administration.
Biden’s approach begins with the American Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for the 2.5 million young undocumented migrants known as “Dreamers,” as well as the 4000,000 immigrants living in the country with temporary protected status.
The second bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, would allow eligible undocumented farmworkers to apply for legal status and is the biggest legalization effort with broad Republican support.
Both bills passed the House in 2019 but were never taken up in the then-Republican-led Senate for a vote.
Democrats are hoping that by breaking Biden’s immigration plans into several smaller bills, they are more likely to succeed in the Senate. Still, the smaller bills are likely to face roadblocks.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters on Tuesday that a comprehensive approach, even with a Democratic majority, “is still a very difficult thing to achieve” and that members of the GOP are likely to prioritize the surge of migrants at the border.
“I’m reaching out on the Republican side. Many of them have said they are focused on the southern border, and I think that has to be part of the conversation,” said Durbin.
On Monday, a dozen GOP House members, including House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.), slammed Biden’s approach after visiting a detention center on the U.S.-Mexico border, an event Democrats and immigration activists dismissed as a political stunt.
“Their immigration strategy is exactly the same thing as their Covid strategy. Do nothing. Just let people die. P.S. @GOPLeader stop using my community as your prop,” tweeted Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who represents the El Paso district that includes the detention center.
The Biden administration also announced on Monday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is stepping in to help manage and care for unaccompanied immigrant children at the border.
Meanwhile, on the Hill, the Biden administration faces criticism across the political spectrum.
Centrist Democrats are split over the strategy to move forward with a piecemeal legislative approach in order to garner Republic support, while progressives are calling for their moderate colleagues to act decisively and have expressed concern they will accept watered-down immigration bills.
Meanwhile, many immigration activists have turned their criticism to the situation at the border and the Biden administration’s detention of unaccompanied migrant children in crowded cells for longer than is legally allowed. More than 4,000 children were being held at Border Patrol stations and facilities as of last weekend.
“We have a lot of critics, but many of them are not putting forward a lot of solutions,” said press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday.
Igor Bobic contributed to this report.