House Considers Citizenship for DREAMers

In the Republican-led House, the question is which of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants can eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship.

Last month, the Senate voted 68-32 to allow most of the nation’s undocumented immigrants to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. But as the House continues to slowly consider small pieces of immigration, one bill at a time, Republican leaders proposed allowing only undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children to become citizens.

As Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. reasoned in his statements, the children known as DREAMers after a failed bill in Congress designed to help them, had no say in the decision to immigrate to the U.S. and know no other home than the United States. He then qualified his position by saying it was irresponsible to provide an avenue to citizenship for their parents.

“I do not believe that parents who made the decision to illegally enter the U.S. while forcing their children to join them should be afforded the same treatment as these kids,” Goodlatte said during a Tuesday hearing in the House subcommittee on immigration and border security.

That scaled-down approach drew criticism from Democrats, immigration advocates and DREAMers, who have put on a full-scale effort in recent weeks to push House Republicans to take up the Senate immigration bill.

Christina Jimenez, an undocumented immigrant and managing director of United We Dream, an organization pushing for citizenship for undocumented immigrants, said they can’t support a proposal that would separate parents from children. “How can we say yes to that and then say ‘deport our parents’?” she said.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer tweeted earlier in the day that Republicans were pushing a “cruel hypocrisy” by allowing children to stay but pushing to deport their parents.

But in a clear indication of how difficult it will be to pass any immigration bill through the House, the proposal also drew sharp criticism from some Republicans for being too lenient on undocumented immigrants. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said in an interview before Tuesday’s hearing that too many criminals would be legalized if a bill was passed to give citizenship to DREAMers.

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” King told Talking Points Memo. “Those people would be legalized with the same act.”
Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., quoted that article during Tuesday’s hearing, calling the language “offensive” and “beneath the dignity of this body.” King responded by saying he wanted to “set the tone a little bit differently” for the hearing and went on to explain his concerns over the proposal. One exchange during Tuesday’s hearing highlighted how difficult it will be for Republicans trying to grant leniency to some undocumented immigrants and not others.

Pamela Rivera is a U.S. citizen because she was born in America in 1987. But her sister was born in Colombia and is now undocumented. And Rivera said her mother had to return to Colombia when her undocumented status was discovered. Goodlatte, who is considering a proposal that would allow some undocumented immigrants to get legal status, but not citizenship, asked Rivera how her mother would feel about such a proposal. “She wants to be part of this country. She wants the opportunity and the responsibility that comes with that,” Rivera said, explaining that she wouldn’t want to make that decision for her parents.

“I certainly understand you wouldn’t want them to have to make that decision, but Congress has to make that decision,” Goodlatte said. Nobody has filed a bill in the House to address DREAMers. The committee on Tuesday was simply exploring the issue. It will be interesting to see what the House weighs in determining whether they can agree with the Senate in creating a process for every undocumented person already in the U.S. or stand by the DREAMers and give them the opportunity to become U.S. citizens.