House Democrats introduce bill to offer 2.5 million immigrants chance at permanent status

House Democrats are teeing up their next major piece of legislation: an immigration bill that would allow as many as 2.5 million people to apply for legal status and put them on a path that could ultimately lead to US citizenship.

The bill, HR 6 — called the Dream and Promise Act — combines the longstanding DREAM Act, a legalization bill for unauthorized immigrants who came to the US as children, with a proposal to allow some immigrants with temporary humanitarian protections to apply for permanent legal status.

What unites the two groups of immigrants is that both have put down roots in the US, generally living here for more (sometimes much more) than a decade but without permanent status. “Living with uncertainty has defined most of my 16 years in the United States,” Jessica Garcia, a 21-year-old DACA recipient, said at a press conference Tuesday formally unveiling the bill.

Both groups also stand to lose protections under President Donald Trump. Trump has moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects many DREAMers from deportation, and has declined to renew temporary protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants under the Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure humanitarian programs.

“We are not going to allow Donald Trump to send them back, and we are not going to ask them to live in a constant state of fear and uncertainty,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), who introduced the bill alongside Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) at Tuesday’s press conference.

If passed, HR 6 would represent the most generous immigration bill since the Reagan “amnesty” of 1986. But while it is extremely likely to pass the House without major changes, it is not going to pass the Republican Senate — or be signed by Trump — in its current form.

Still, the bill matters because it’s a statement of the Democratic consensus on immigration. That may come into play if Trump and Republicans make another effort to pass an immigration bill of their own — or if Congress is spurred into action again by the threat of an end to DACA. And as Democratic 2020 candidates start articulating their own visions of the presidency, and set their priorities for what they’d do if elected, the bill is one marker of where the party stands.

What the bill would do

HR 6 targets two different groups of immigrants who don’t currently have a way to apply for permanent legal status in the US. The first group is DREAMers, or unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the US as children; the second group is immigrants who have been protected due to war or natural disaster in their home countries.

Most of this second group has Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a legal status given on a country-by-country basis — these immigrants, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, have generally been in the US for decades. It also includes hundreds of Liberians with a lesser protection called Deferred Enforced Departure.

Many of these immigrants are currently protected from deportation; TPS gives immigrants temporary legal status and about 675,000 DREAMers are currently protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by President Obama in 2012. The Trump administration is trying to end DACA and to sunset TPS for most of its recipients (most of whom come from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti). Both efforts are currently held up in federal court. The DED protections for Liberians, however, are currently set to expire at the end of March.

Under HR 6, all of these — DREAMers and humanitarian protectees alike — would be allowed to apply for permanent legal status.

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Dara Lind