As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to take up immigration legislation next month, some members, including several from Texas, want to use a rare procedure that could force a vote on immigration bills related to the program that helps undocumented young immigrants to stay in the country, DACA, and to Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
The mechanism was announced back in March, when Representatives Will Hurd (R-Texas), Pete Aguilar (D-California), Jeff Denham (R-California) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mexico) introduced House Resolution 774 proposing to use the so-called Queen of The Hill rule which, if passed, would force a debate and a vote on four immigration bills.
As of May 25th, the House Resolution that proposes to implement the Queen of The Hill rule had 244 cosponsors.
Additionally, with the goal of expediting the legislative process, a group of Republican Representatives led by Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) introduced on May 9 what is called a discharge petition. Also as of May 25th, 213 Representatives were supporting the discharge petition with their signatures. According to the House’s rules, a minimum of 218 Representatives must support a discharge petition in order for it to be called up on the floor.
The purpose of a discharge petition is to allow Members of Congress to bring legislation to the floor without having to first pass it in a committee. It is a maneuver aimed at getting things done more quickly.
Therefore, the filing of the discharge petition was a second move by the group led by Congressman Curbelo with the goal of bringing House Resolution 774 to the floor as soon as possible.
Although a comprehensive immigration reform has been a long-debated political battle across all administrations since former President George W. Bush, it has become a particularly heated issue under President Donald Trump, whose toughening of immigration policies has become controversial.
Moreover, Trump’s decision to end DACA would leave hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors, also called “dreamers”, vulnerable to deportation.
Former President Barack Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in June 2012 to protect participating “dreamers” by providing them with temporary permission to stay in the country, as well as employment authorization.
The Trump Administration announced in September 2017 it would terminate DACA. However, the program is now the subject of ongoing litigation.
According to data compiled by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), there are more than 100,000 DACA recipients in Texas.
Bills that would be voted on
The bills that the Queen of The Hill supporters want to debate and vote on are:
- The "Securing America's Future Act", introduced by Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) and Rep. Martha McSally (R-Arizona);
- The "Dream Act of 2017", introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-California) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida);
- The "Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act of 2018", introduced by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-California);
- A fourth bill to be debated and voted on would be one that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) would choose.
The "Securing America's Future Act" would provide what is called in the bill “contingent nonimmigrant status” to those who were DACA recipients when the bill became law. Although it would provide a legal status, the bill wouldn't include neither permanent residency nor a possibility to become a U.S. citizen.
The "Dream Act of 2017", on the other hand, would grant DACA beneficiaries a permanent resident status on a conditional basis. It would also allow beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), people without lawful immigration status and people with final orders of removal the opportunity to apply for that same immigration status.
Once they had a permit as conditional permanent residents, those benefiting from the "Dream Act of 2017" could subsequently become lawful permanent residents and, eventually, apply to become citizens.
The "USA Act of 2018" provides what the bill calls a “conditional permanent resident status” for undocumented immigrants, including DACA recipients and also TPS recipients, except those who had engaged in disqualifying conduct.
To obtain the conditional permanent resident status, which could last up to eight years, the person would have to meet certain requirements. The main two requirements would be: Having entered the United States when the person was younger than 18 years old and residing in the U.S. since December 31, 2013.
According to the bill, an individual could apply to have the conditional basis removed after meeting specified eligibility requirements. In those cases, the bill would provide an opportunity to become a lawful permanent resident and a U.S. citizen.
Waiting for the discharge petition
Meanwhile, the bipartisan group behind the Queen of The Hill awaits for the discharge petition to be successful in order to move forward.
According to the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the process for a discharge petition to be successful is the following: First, as noted earlier, a minimum of 218 Representatives must support the petition with their signatures.
If that happens, a motion to discharge that has been on the House's Calendar for seven legislative days can be called up on the second and fourth Mondays of each month, as long as the House is in session.
That requirement represents a time constraint because, according to Denham's office, it means that June 25th and July 23rd are the only days left in the current fiscal year when the measure could come forward. December 10th is also a possibility, although it would be quite late in the year.
Once the discharge petition is called up in the House, a 20 minute debate on the motion to discharge can be conducted.
Next, if a majority of the Representatives who are present in the chamber vote in favor of the motion, the committee is discharged. At that point, the House would consider Resolution 774.
Subsequently, if a majority of the Representatives who are present in the chamber vote in favor of Resolution 774, that would give the green light to the Queen of The Hill rule, which would mean that the House does have to debate the four bills and vote on them.
A GOP fracture
The need for the Queen of The Hill rule, and therefore for expediting the debate and voting of the bills, has to do with the fact that an immigration law that deals with border security, as well as with the future of undocumented populations, is something that Congress has postponed for too long, according to some of the Representatives behind the initiative.
Congressman Hurd said recently that politicians “cannot avoid action any longer” on “an important issue” that “the American people want debated on the House floor.”
On their part, Denham and Curbelo have lamented that Congress has avoided for years the immigration debate and the Florida Congressman stressed that the Queen of The Hill rule “does not attempt to impose any specific bill, instead it empowers all Members of the House, including the Speaker, to craft a solution that can win majority support and be signed into law.”
However, Speaker Ryan has expressed his opposition to the Queen of The Hill rule which has created tensions within the GOP ranks, and recently urged House Republicans to resist the urge to sign on to the discharge petition.
Discharge petitions are “…a big mistake,” Ryan said in an interview. “They dis-unify our majority."
In a recent interview with Houston Public Media, Hurd stressed that “the job of the House of Representatives is to do our job.”
The Republican Congressman acknowledged nevertheless that he is conscious of the fact that, even if the House does pass a bill, there is no guarantee that the Senate would also do its job by passing its own version of the legislation.
What matters, Hurd underlined, is that the House produces a bipartisan piece of legislation and then “the Senate can move something and then it’s up to the President to decide whether he signs it or vetoes it.”
Others are also supporting the Queen of The Hill initiative and the introduction of the discharge petition. Among them is Washington, D.C.-based Center for American Progress (CAP), a pro-immigration reform organization which has underscored the urgent need for more GOP Representatives to support the discharge petition with their signatures.
Tom Jawetz, CAP's vice president of Immigration Policy, noted in a statement that as Ryan “digs in his heels and continues to prevent a simple debate on the House floor, no Republican sponsor of the underlying Queen of The Hill resolution can remain on the sidelines and refuse to sign the discharge petition.”
Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, an organization that supports a comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, said on his part that it's “time for our elected officials to finally do their jobs and show voters where they stand.”
“We urge every Member of Congress to sign onto this discharge petition, and stand up and vote,” Schulte added in a statement.