House passes legislation to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants

The vote to legalize "dreamers" was 228-197, with nine Republicans joining all the Democrats in support

The House of Representatives Thursday passed immigration bills that would protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation and offer them a pathway to stay in the United States permanently. 

The House approved the Dream and Promise Act, which would help more than 3 million so-called "Dreamers" and others gain legal status and a chance for citizenship, according to a Democratic aide.

The vote was 228-197, with nine Republicans joining all the Democrats in support.  Seven Republicans joined Democrats the last time the issue was considered in 2019.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, also passed Thursday by a 247 to 174 vote, with 30 Republicans voting for it and one Democrat voted against. It would help another 1 million immigrant agriculture workers and their families stay legally in the United States.

President Biden, who backed both bills, urged Congress to not stop there and to continue to work toward passing comprehensive immigration reform to create a pathway for citizenship for all the 11 million undocumented immigrants Democrats estimate are living in the United States.

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"Americans recognize that our nation is enriched by the contributions of immigrants," Biden's Office of Management and Budget said in a statement of support Thursday. The legislation is a "critical milestone toward much-needed relief for the millions of undocumented individuals who call the United States home."

But Republican leaders panned the Dreamer legislation as an "amnesty" program that will further serve as a "magnet" for undocumented immigrants to flood the Southern border. Republicans have been hitting Biden hard for the surge of migrants that is on pace to reach a 20-year high.

"When you have a crisis at the border, the last thing you should do is make it worse," said GOP Whip Steve Scalie, R-La., who whipped members to vote "no." "That's what this bill does."

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The farmworker bill to help undocumented agriculture workers, their spouses, and minor children earn legal status had more bipartisan support. Republicans view the bill as a way to stabilize the farming workforce and also phase in a mandatory nationwide E-verify system for all agricultural employment.

On July 22, 2013, a group of "Dreamers" marched to the U.S. port of entry in Nogales, Mexico, where they requested humanitarian parole.

On July 22, 2013, a group of "Dreamers" marched to the U.S. port of entry in Nogales, Mexico, where they requested humanitarian parole. (AP2013)

"This bill is not about what is happening on the border," Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said in support of the measure. "This bill is not amnesty. It does not grant anybody amnesty. It allows individuals to get right with the law and to become legal [workers] in the United States. It's about providing a stable legal workforce for the people who put food on our table."

The Dream Act legislation netted GOP support in the past, but the immigration debate has turned more toxic lately, with Republicans blaming Biden's rhetoric and executive orders for the big uptick of migrants at the border.

Republicans argued that Congres should be focused now on border security and not granting "amnesty" that could serve as a further incentive for migrant children to make the dangerous trek to the United States.

"We're way beyond the debate over whether this is a border crisis," said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif. "The question now is whether we have a border at all."

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But Democrats said granting a pathway to citizenship is morally right for the Dreamers who came to the United States illegally as children and in some cases have no recollection whatsoever of their birth country.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined at right by Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., chairman of the House Hispanic Caucus, and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., discusses the upcoming vote on the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, a bill to help reform the immigration system, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 18, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined at right by Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., chairman of the House Hispanic Caucus, and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., discusses the upcoming vote on the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, a bill to help reform the immigration system, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 18, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press)

"Each Dreamer has a unique story," said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif, who authored the legislation. "They all exemplify American values and a deep love for the only nation they call home."

The Dream Act legislation grants the young immigrants conditional permanent resident status for 10 years and cancels removal proceedings if they pass a background check, pay fees and graduate from high school.

They're eligible for full green card status if they meet more requirements such as a college degree, military service or three years of employment. 

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The legislation allows Dreamers to access federal financial aid and removes penalties on states that grant in-state tuition to undocumented students. 

The Dream Act also protects individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) from deportation and provides an opportunity for lawful permanent resident status. 

The Dream Act and farmworker bills now head to the Senate where they would need 60 votes to advance.