The US House of Representatives, controlled by President Joe Biden’s Democrats, on Thursday approved two immigration reform bills to regularise nearly 4 million undocumented immigrants, mostly young people known as “dreamers” and farm workers.
The attempt at regularisation coincides with a sharp increase in the arrival of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors and migrant families at the southern border, which has served as a pretext for much of the Republican opposition to reject the bills.
The first initiative, focused on the “dreamers”, was approved with 228 votes in favour (all Democrats and nine Republicans) and 197 against.
According to estimates by its promoters, more than 2 million young people who were brought to the US when they were minors by their parents and who are known as dreamers could benefit from this reform that establishes a path to naturalisation.
Former Democratic president Barack Obama (2009-2017) first approved temporary regularisation for these young people in 2012, but the Republicans took it to court and since then it has been subject to a long legal battle.
In addition to Dreamers, the bill also provides a pathway to citizenship for TPS (Temporary Protected Status), a programme that benefits some 400,000 people, mostly Central Americans and Haitians affected by natural disasters or civil conflict.
The second bill put to the vote, which focused on agricultural workers, received 247 votes in favour, including 30 Republicans, and 174 against, one of them a Democrat.
This second initiative could be used to regularise the status of around 1 million farm workers and their families.
The Democrats’ number two in the lower house, Steny Hoyer, affirmed that “these two bills are not the solution, but they are the solution to part of the problem”.
These two measures are part of the major immigration reform that the White House is pushing through Congress, which aims to regularise 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The Democrats have opted to present the reform in parts as a strategy to receive more support from the opposition.
However, the situation at the border, where nearly 14,000 unaccompanied minors who have crossed from Mexico remain in US government custody, has dominated much of the debate.
“With what’s happening on the border today, it’s probably the worst time the Democrats could offer to do this,” said House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who travelled to the border area this week.
In addition, the two documents that received the green light on Thursday are very similar versions of bills that the House already approved in 2019 but did not pass the Senate, then under Republican control.
Democrats now dominate the Senate, but their short majority requires at least 10 Republicans to pass significant reforms, an unlikely scenario at the moment.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters that “there is no path to anything right now”.
The immigration measures would thus be doomed to join the pile of bills that Democrats have passed in the House since President Joe Biden took office two months ago but that Republicans are blocking in the Senate.
Among the other bills on the backlog are electoral reform, gun control measures, labour legislation and initiatives against discrimination against the LGTBI community.