The House passed two major immigration reform bills on Thursday, securing the first step in President Joe Biden’s plan to grant a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people.
But the bills are likely to stall out in the Senate, which Democrats narrowly control ― making the chances for immigration reform unlikely given heavy Republican opposition.
The House passed the American Dream and Promise Act in a 228-197 vote, with nine Republicans voting in favor. The bill would provide a path to citizenship for the 2.5 million young undocumented migrants known as “Dreamers,” as well as the 400,000 immigrants living in the country with temporary protected status, or TPS.
The chamber later approved a second bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, in a 247-174 vote. Thirty Republicans voted to approve the bill and one Democrat ― Rep. Jared Golden of Maine ― voted no.
That second bill would allow eligible undocumented farmworkers to apply for legal status and is the biggest legalization effort with broad Republican support. A majority of the country’s roughly 2.4 million farmworkers are undocumented.
The bills would be life-changing for undocumented immigrants. While many Dreamers are currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, they remain at risk of deportation and lack permanent status.
Both bills have support from the White House.
“Ensuring that Dreamers and TPS recipients have a clear path to citizenship would deliver much-needed economic security and stability to millions of people who currently face perpetual uncertainty and vulnerability as a result of their immigration status,” read a statement from the White House released on Thursday.
Biden urged all members of the House to vote in favor of the bills in a tweet and said it was “long past time Congress gives a path to citizenship for Dreamers and TPS recipients who strengthen our country and call our nation home.”
But immigration reform is always a heavy lift in Congress ― and particularly now, after former President Donald Trump spent years pushing anti-immigrant and restrictionist policies with the support of most Republicans.
It has been more than three decades since Congress enacted broad immigration reforms, and anything proposed since then has struggled to gain enough support. In 2019, both bills passed the House at the time but were never taken up in the then-Republican-led Senate for a vote.
Earlier this week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters that he was not optimistic of the legislation garnering enough bipartisan support.
“I don’t see a means of reaching that,” said Durbin, who has been championing protections for Dreamers for two decades. “I want it. I think we are much more likely to deal with discrete elements” of such a plan.
The vote comes at a time where the Biden administration is facing scrutiny amid the biggest surge of migrants at its southwestern border in 20 years. More than 100,000 migrants were apprehended at the border with Mexico in February, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Another several thousand unaccompanied minors were also in CBP custody as of last Sunday held in shocking conditions, prompting outrage from lawmakers and activists alike.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an immigration reform supporter-turned Trump ally who co-sponsored the Dream Act with Durbin, said Wednesday that Republicans will not work on immigration measures without changes in border policy.
“The Biden administration is creating chaos where there was order,” Graham said. “The only way we’ll be able to sit down with our Democratic colleagues is for us to regain control of the border.”
During the floor vote Thursday, Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) stated that the issue at the border was not an excuse.
“I have no doubt that some of my Republican colleagues will stand before us today and use what they claim as a crisis at the border as an excuse not to support this bill,” he said. “But let’s get one thing straight. This legislation is not about the border. This legislation is about finally delivering on our promise to America’s dreamers and others who are equally deserving of our protection.”