CAPITOL HILL - House Democrats and Republicans see the timeline for resolving the fate of 800,000 undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children in very different terms.
Democrats calling for urgent action had yet to persuade their Republican colleagues Tuesday to join them in an effort that would force a vote on a bill to create a permanent legislative solution for so-called Dreamers.
The Democrats launched an unusual procedural move late Monday to gather 218 signatures for what's known as a discharge petition that would bring the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act straight to the House floor for a vote, without House leaders' approval. The legislation would protect undocumented minors (the Dreamers) from deportation; versions of the bill have been introduced a number of times but none has been approved.
"I am hopeful that we can see a piece of legislation on the floor within this work period, this legislative work period," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, told reporters Tuesday morning. The House goes on a one-week break starting October 13.
Democrats lined the aisles of the House floor Tuesday afternoon to add their signatures to the petition. Hoyer told reporters he expected to have 150 signatures on the petition by the end of Tuesday.
But a Hoyer aide told VOA on background that as of midday Tuesday, no Republicans had signed the petition. The aide said Democrats would continue to urge Republicans to join the effort sooner rather than later.
President Donald Trump called on Congress this month to find a permanent solution for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama administrative measure — rescinded by Trump — that protected the youths from deportation.
Lawmakers from both parties have publicly stated their support for finding a permanent legislative solution for Dreamers, and polling has found that Americans overwhelmingly support such action.
But some Republicans in Congress object to the specifics of the DREAM Act, citing concerns about enabling chain migration — the admission of one immigrant who then sponsors relatives from his home country to come to the United States, who then in turn could sponsor more family members — or granting amnesty to immigrants who have broken the law.
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has said he supports resolving the status of Dreamers, but he says any legislative solution also must address the root causes of illegal immigration. Ryan appointed a Republican task force to consider the issue.
"I think we'll fix this problem in the next two to three months," Representative Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, told VOA Tuesday, describing his expectations for the task force's work.
Barton became the fourth House Republican — and 200th co-sponsor — to sign on to the DREAM Act. He also is a co-sponsor of the Recognizing America's Children (RAC) Act, Florida Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo's proposal.
But Barton told VOA on Tuesday that he would not be signing the Democrats' discharge petition to force a floor vote on the DREAM Act.
"On this, I think the Judiciary Committee and the Homeland Security Committee will act, so I don't think you need a discharge petition," he said.
Urgency on Capitol Hill?
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California met with Trump earlier this month, working out a provisional deal to pass DACA legislation in return for increased border security funding. Pelosi said Trump had told her he would sign the DREAM Act into law if Congress passed it.
The specifics of that deal would face a tough road in the House of Representatives, though, where members of both parties will be conscious of having to answer to their constituents on contentious immigration issues.
House Democrats, fearing the issue would lose urgency, said the petition was needed to avoid the deportation of Dreamers when the phase-out of the DACA program is complete early next year.
"I urge all of my Republican colleagues who said they care about Dreamers, that they must solve this problem, they want to participate in a legislative fix — we have your opportunity," Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat from New Mexico, said Monday.
The DACA issue could have a significant impact on Congress' looming December budget negotiations if not resolved, Representative Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois and an outspoken supporter of Dreamers, warned Monday at a Capitol Hill rally.
"Either you have the majority for your Republican budget by December 9th with your votes or you negotiate with the Democrats to get those votes on the basis of justice for our immigrant community," Gutierrez said.