WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (Reuters) – More than 200 advocates from across the United States gathered on Capitol Hill this week with an 11th-hour mission: to persuade lawmakers to grant citizenship to “Dream” immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children.
Addinelli Moreno Soto, a 31-year-old communications assistant who came to the United States from Mexico when she was 3, was hoping to travel with her husband from San Antonio to the Capitol on Wednesday to meet with her state’s U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. The influential Republican’s support will help Congress advance a deal that has stalled for more than a decade and may fail again this year.
Cornyn has not been able to meet with her and other Dreamer advocates in Texas, she said. One of his staff told them that Cornyn would have to look at the text of any law before making a decision.
The year-end push closes the window for Congress to find a compromise to protect Dreamers, many of whom speak English and have jobs, families and children in the United States but do not have permanent status.
Supporters of the effort have urged Congress to pass the legislation as Democrats – who overwhelmingly support the Dreamers – hand over control of the US House of Representatives to Republicans in January. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said securing the border must come first before other immigration issues can be addressed.
About 594,000 Dreamers signed up in 2012 for a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provides protection from deportation and work permits, but is currently facing legal challenges with Republican attorneys general in Texas and other US states.
US President Joe Biden, a Democrat running for office in 2021, promised to protect Dreamers and their families during the campaign after former Republican President Donald Trump tried to end DACA.
Both Morenos applied for DACA in 2012. Now they have two US citizens, ages two and three.
“How much longer before we prove we deserve to be here forever?” Moreno said. “That’s the sad part. I have kids. What about them?”
‘I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE’
Independent Sens. Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, who recently left the Democratic Party, and Tom Tillis of North Carolina, a Republican, have been working in recent weeks on a plan to combine border restrictions with a path to citizenship for about 2 million Dreamers. Laws that may be reviewed by Reuters.
But even some House Democrats have expressed reservations about the Senate bill.
The Senate was split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris tied. At least 10 Republicans must join Democrats to overcome the procedural hurdle of 60 votes needed to advance legislation in the Senate.
Lawmakers have a tight deadline, with Congress expected to pass a roughly $1.7 trillion spending bill that would serve as funding for an immigration deal in just over a week, but leading Republicans say that will not happen.
“It’s not going anywhere,” Cornyn told Reuters this week in a more blunt assessment than his staff.
A Senate aide and three other people familiar with the matter said Thursday that the Dreamer effort will not move forward until the end of the year. Sinema and Tillis’ offices did not respond to requests for comment.
Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat, said he was “upset and disappointed” that negotiations did not progress to legislation for senators to consider.
Sen. John F. Kennedy, a conservative Republican from Louisiana, said his party has lost faith in the president’s willingness to protect the border amid record illegal crossings.
“President Biden’s administration is very pleased with the open border,” Kennedy said. “They’re happy to have all those people come and everybody knows it.”
A Biden administration official criticized Republicans for “pointing fingers” and attacking Biden’s record “while they themselves refuse to take the steps we need from Congress to fix our broken immigration system.”
For Raul Perez, 33, of Austin, Texas, who came to Washington, D.C., the lingering uncertainty surrounding his future and that of other Dreamers has been frustrating.
“It’s been over a decade since DACA came out and we’re still in the same place,” said Perez, a member of the immigrant-led advocacy group United We Dream. “We need something to pass now. We can’t wait.”
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Wide picture-Reuters photo of a Guatemalan mother pleading with a soldier to be allowed to enter the United States
Report by Ted Hesson and Richard Cowan in Washington; Edited by Mary Milliken, Aurora Ellis, and Lisa Shumaker
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