House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., arrives for a caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 28, 2018.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., arrives for a caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 28, 2018.

In a roomful of pro-immigrant advocates and activists Monday afternoon, one of the highest-ranking Democrats in Congress made big promises — ones lawmakers have not been able to uphold for years. 

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, who will become the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives when Democrats take control of the chamber in January, pledged to “bring legislation to the floor that addresses our immigration challenges.” 

Hundreds of attendees applauded. Those laws Hoyer went on to describe affect their work, and in some cases, their friends and families. 

He listed the main concerns for the crowd at the three-day National Immigrant Integration Conference, held in Arlington, Virginia this week. He promised Dreamers and DACA recipients “the relief they deserve” and a pathway to citizenship. He swore there would be a bill addressing Temporary Protected Status. And he promised Democrats would counteract the “dangerous, un-American, inhumane policy” of the Trump administration in separating families and detaining children. 

“This is not a partisan fight though I have put it, in some respects, in partisan terms. This is an American fight,” Hoyer said to “yeses” and nods from the crowd.   

But any reform to the immigration system has been a failure for both parties in Congress for years. With a divided Congress come January — the House led by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans — hope of passing any laws may remain out of reach. 

Environmental activists occupy the office of Rep.
Environmental activists occupy the office of Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the incoming majority leader, as they try to pressure Democratic support for a sweeping agenda to fight climate change, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 10, 2018.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has altered the immigration system on its own through a series of policy changes and executive orders. 

One of them — the so-called public charge rule — was most on the minds of conference attendees on Monday. The period for public comment on the proposed regulation change is set to end Monday night at 11:59 p.m. 

“Trump is trying to make an end-run around Congress,” Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said during a Monday news conference about the public charge issue. 

The modifications to the long-standing rule would expand the number of immigrants the government considers to be a potential “public charge” by counting their access to certain types of public benefits against them. 

“It’s hard to promise somebody that this won’t impact them,” Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner for the New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said of the effect the rule change is having on immigrant communities before it even takes effect.