House Democrats Introduce Bill to Offer 2.5 Million Immigrants Chance at Permanent Status

Dara Linddara, Vox, March 12, 2019

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.

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“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. {snip}

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.

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

The humanitarian protectees (TPS and DED holders) who’ve been in the US since fall 2016 would simply be allowed to apply for green cards (legal permanent residency), which they can’t do right now unless they qualify through other means. After having a green card for five years, they’d be allowed to apply for citizenship, just like any other green card holder.

For DREAMers — whether or not they currently have DACA — the path would be a little more complicated. They’d be allowed to apply for “conditional permanent residency,” which they’d be granted under certain conditions:

  • They arrived in the US before turning 18 and had been in the US for at least four years
  • They weren’t convicted of a felony or three separate misdemeanors involving total jail time of 90 days
  • They have a high school diploma or GED, or are enrolled in a program to get a high school diploma or GED
  • They can pass background checks and a few other standard eligibility requirements

Conditional status would last for 10 years. But DREAMers with conditional status would be able to apply for green cards at any time if they got a degree from a higher ed institution (or completed two years in good standing of a bachelor’s or technical program), served for two years in the military, or worked for three years.

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HR 6 is slightly more generous than the 2017 version — especially in allowing people who are enrolled in a diploma or GED program but don’t have one to get legal status. There are also at least 300,000 — and as many as 440,000 — additional immigrants with TPS and DED not covered by the 2017 act who’d qualify to apply for green cards.

So in total, it’s fair to estimate that about 2.5 million immigrants would be able to apply for legal status as a result of this bill — many of whom would get green cards and, ultimately, citizenship.

HR 6 won’t pass into law in its current form. But it reflects a new Democratic consensus.

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HR 6 doesn’t reflect the full scope of that agenda. Most members of Congress who spoke Tuesday insisted that after this bill passes (it won’t), they’d want to get to work on “comprehensive immigration reform.” Pretty much every Democrat in Congress agrees that legalization needs to be available to all 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

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