House Democrats roll out legislation to provide permanent protections for millions of 'Dreamers'

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) answers questions during her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol February 28, 2019 in Washington, DC.
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Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats on Tuesday introduced an updated Dream Act that would provide permanent legal protections and a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants known as "Dreamers" who came to America as children.

The bill, H.R. 6, called the Dream and Promise Act of 2019, would extend protections for Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure recipients, providing work permits and blocking deportation for immigrants from countries grappling with war or natural disasters. It would benefit roughly 3.6 million Dreamers, including the 800 thousand who have been shielded from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Pelosi promised in 2018 that if Democrats won the House, they would bring the Dream Act to a floor vote. In 2017, when Republicans rejected a floor vote of the Dream Act, Democrats attempted to force a vote by filing a discharge petition but failed to get enough signatures.

"The American people elected a New Democratic majority that would uphold our values of liberty, justice and opportunity," Pelosi said at a press conference.

President Donald Trump tried to terminate DACA in 2017, but was blocked by a federal appeals court. Separately, Texas and eight other states filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to end the program. The president also tried to end Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from El Salvador, Sudan, Nicaragua and Haiti but was again blocked by federal court.

California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, who co-authored the original Dream Act in 2001, said the updated legislation will give Dreamers access to in-state tuition and federal student financial aid. It will also permit eligible Dreamers who were deported by the Trump administration to apply for relief.

"Our bill contains a number of provisions that make it more progressive and pragmatic than previous versions of the Dream Act," Roybal-Allard said. "I have seen the pain and fear the Trump administration has had on Dreamers and their families.

"My Congressional district is home to largest number of Dreamers in the country...They are neighbors and colleagues who help strengthen communities," she continued.

It is unclear whether the 2019 measure will receive bipartisan support. While the 2017 Dream Act was bipartisan, two of the six GOP co-sponsors of that bill have retired and the other four lost their re-election bids last November.

But interest in new immigration legislation is high. Ahead of the House vote, several groups have ramped up lobbying efforts to protect undocumented immigrants. At least 379 groups lobbied on issues related to DACA, Dream Act another other immigration bills from 2017 to 2018, according the Center for Responsive Politics.