The House on Thursday voted for the first time this year to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, amid a larger debate in Washington over President Joe Biden’s handling of the surge in migrants seeking to cross into the country from Mexico.
The measure, and another bill to provide legal status to undocumented farm workers, were passed by Democrats in the last session of Congress, but stalled in a GOP-controlled Senate. Now, Democrats hope to see a different result with their party in control of the upper chamber – though it is still unclear if the bills can garner the support of the ten Republicans needed to advance.
The American Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for young undocumented migrants known as “Dreamers” and other people living in the country with temporary protected status, passed in a 228-197 vote.
Nine Republicans voted with Democrats to pass the measure, one more than the number of GOP votes the proposal received in the last session of Congress.
According to its Democratic sponsors, the proposal would impact roughly 3.4 million people.
"These people have lived in silence for far too long," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said Thursday.
"For us, this is a day of not only passing legislation, but a cause for celebration," Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at an event before the vote.
The House also passed The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which could create a system for more than 1 million undocumented farm workers to apply for legal status and was praised on the floor by Democrats and Republicans who first crafted the bipartisan agreement in 2019.
The bill passed in a 247-174 vote, with 30 Republicans voting with Democrats, and a single Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, voting with Republicans against the bill. It faces an uncertain path forward in the Senate.
"There simply isn’t enough interest among domestic workers to get these jobs done,” Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., said Thursday, calling the proposal the “targeted” and “bipartisan solution our farmers and ranchers need.”
The majority of Republican used debate time Thursday to criticize the Biden administration’s response to the growing number of migrants trying to enter the United States across the southwestern border.
"It is the Biden border crisis,” GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on the floor. "So far, the Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats aren’t providing any solutions."
As of Wednesday, 9,562 unaccompanied children are being held in Department of Health and Human Services facilities, and roughly 4,500 currently in Border Patrol custody, where they are processed and transferred to the HHS shelters, according to administration officials.
Republicans have argued that the surge was prompted by the Biden administration’s unwinding of some of the Trump administration’s policies, including allowing unaccompanied minors to enter the country.
The Biden administration, which has refused to describe the situation as a “crisis,” has blamed Trump’s handling of the border and said they inherited a system that was unprepared for the increased number of migrants.
"Give us the time to rebuild the system that was entirely dismantled in the prior administration, and we have in fact begun to rebuild that system," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., admonished Republicans for complaining about the situation at the border while refusing to bring comprehensive immigration reform to the House floor for a vote when they controlled the House.
Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., a freshman who has put forward his own GOP version of the Dream and Promise Act, said on Wednesday that Democrats were playing politics with the Thursday votes, given the uncertain path forward in the Senate.
"You cannot be playing with people this way," she said of the undocumented immigrants seeking legal status and a path to citizenship.
But she ended up voting for the bill, telling reporters that she "wanted to send the right message to Democrats that I am willing to work with them."
Immigration reform "is still a very difficult thing to achieve," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday. He noted that the House voted on several limited immigration measures rather than the comprehensive proposal pushed by the Biden administration that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
"I’m reaching out on the Republican side," Durbin said. "Many of them have said they are focused on the southern border. And I think that has to be part of the conversation."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., suggested that it would be challenging for Republicans to engage in negotiations over immigration reform without discussing border security and the handling of the unaccompanied minors by the Biden administration.
"Until he regains control with policies that work, it's going to be hard to do anything on Dreamers or anything else," he said Wednesday. "Legalizing anybody under these circumstances would lead to even more illegal immigration."