Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, railed against Democrats for holding a hearing Tuesday on legislation to allow “Dreamers” to become U.S. citizens during a continued surge of migrants at the southern border with Mexico.
“The majority has scheduled a hearing not to address the crisis at the border, at least not in a way that would make it better or alleviate it. But rather to discuss amnesty,” Lee said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “The amnesty proposal in this bill would ensure that this unprecedented crisis continues indefinitely, in perpetuity perhaps.”
The committee discussed the American Dream and Promise Act, nine years to the day that President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. The program lets some people without lawful presence in the U.S. who were brought to the country as children receive a renewable two-year deferral from deportation and obtain a work permit. It does not offer a way to citizenship.
Witnesses at the hearing included former Obama and Trump administration immigration officials.
The bill, which passed the House in March with some bipartisan support, would grant citizenship to an estimated 2.7 million people who arrived as children or have temporary permission to stay in the U.S.
A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll in April found that 55% of Utahns support the legislation. All four of Utah’s Republican congressmen voted against the bill, which faces an uphill climb in the Senate.
Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., said Congress has repeatedly failed to pass a permanent solution to create a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, or other longtime residents.
“The American people recognize our urgent need to do justice by ‘Dreamers,’ and still Congress has left hundreds of thousands of young people and their families to live in limbo for years and years and years,” he said. “They’ve shared their intelligence, their education and their skills, despite constantly living in fear of a potential change in their status.”
President Donald Trump sought to phase out DACA in 2017, but courts have kept the program in place. President Joe Biden issued an executive order reinstating DACA in January.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., noted that he and now retired Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch co-sponsored the Dream Act 20 years ago. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which aimed to grant temporary residency with the right to work for people who entered the U.S. illegally as children, has been reintroduced several times but never passed.
Referring to those children as “Dreamers” was not initially associated with the effort but has since become common parlance.
“We revel in the stories of those who were affected by the Dream Act and DACA because they are the stories of America,” Durbin said.
Republicans on the committee said now is not the time for Congress to consider the legislation in light of the crisis at the border.
Lee said the surge of migrants through Mexico comes as no surprise given the Biden administration’s immigrations policies. Since February, more than 632,00 people “that we know of” have entered the U.S. illegally with the hope of eventual amnesty, he said.
“What we should be discussing today is what can be done and what should be done to stop the border crisis that we now face and to stop the abuse of women and children who embark along this perilous journey, and to stop the smugglers and the cartels from earning record high profits from exploiting this crisis,” he said.
Joseph Edlow, former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services deputy director for policy, said the American Dream and Promise Act would exacerbate the border crisis in response to a question from Lee.
“I think it adds to the crisis as more people will see that the promises that have been made by the current administration, by the Biden administration, are coming to fulfillment,” said Edlow, who served in the Trump administration.
Lee noted that the bill doesn’t contain enforcement provisions to deter future illegal immigration or that might deter people from voting illegally. Edlow said the bill includes a waiver for illegal immigrants.
“Why would we want to do that?” Lee said.
“I don’t have any idea,” Ludlow said. “We wouldn’t want to do that nor would we want to waive criminal activity that we’re seeing in this bill.”
Republicans say the legislation appears to allow the government to waive restrictions on a host of criminal violations among illegal immigrants.