One of the most predictable characteristics of the political landscape for 2021 is the House taking up legislation it passed in the last Congress only to watch it die in Mitch McConnell’s Senate. Now such bills will get a hearing and probably a vote in Chuck Schumer’s Senate. The dynamic played out again on Thursday when the House passed two immigration bills it had cleared in 2019.
The first and most newsworthy bill dealt with so-called Dreamers, young people brought into the country as children without documentation who had maintained clean criminal records. The House-passed bill would create a clear path to citizenship for the estimated 2.5 million immigrants, including some currently hanging on by their fingernails to temporary refugee status.
While in theory, Dreamers are the one element of the undocumented population Republicans tend to smile upon (special status for them is very popular, even among Trump supporters), the bill has gotten snagged in the broader politics of immigration, which for the GOP means conniptions over the “border crisis” created by a surge of asylum-seekers along the southern border. Many House Republicans professed sympathy for Dreamers, but said they could only support relief if it was linked to or made contingent upon better border enforcement. In other words, they want to continue to use Dreamers as hostages in immigration-policy negotiations. In any event, only nine House Republicans voted for the bill, joining every House Democrat.
Farm-belt Republicans may feel more pressure to support another warmed-over immigration bill the House cleared on Thursday: Legislation creating a path to citizenship for very regular seasonal migrant farmworkers (i.e., those entering the country on visas for more than a decade), while increasing access to longer-term visas as well. This bill would benefit roughly a million workers and their families. Thirty House Republicans voted for it.
While President Biden released a statement hailing passage of the Dreamer bill, he’s been relatively quiet about these piecemeal immigration policy moves, in part because he doesn’t want to provide fuel to the “border crisis” media fire (it’s all the rage on Fox News), and in part to maintain a focus on his own, more comprehensive immigration-reform proposal. But you can expect a Republican filibuster against any immigration bill in the Senate, certainly for long enough to allow GOP agitation over border enforcement and possibly until the end of time. Other than symbolic agitation over “cancel culture,” getting tough on immigration is about the only substantive issue today’s Republicans have left.