Groups renew lobbying push to protect ‘Dreamers’ ahead of House vote

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Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., speaks on Dreamers and TPS recipients on March 6, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Immigration is a divisive issue. For more than three decades, everyone has agreed the federal immigration system needs to be reformed, and for three decades nobody has been able to agree on how to do it.  

When President Donald Trump announced he would end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protects so-called Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors — once again, everyone agreed that something needed to be done.

From Amazon and Walmart to the Koch brothers and Sierra Club, fierce enemies unite in their support of legislation to protect Dreamers, even if they don’t necessarily agree on all the details.

That interest remains immense as Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) prepares to reintroduce the DREAM Act — which protects Dreamers from deportation and provides a path to citizenship — as the Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6) on March 12.

At least 379 groups lobbied on issues related to DACA, the DREAM Act or other bills involving protections for undocumented immigrants in 2017 and 2018, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. In total, 646 clients lobbied on the topic of immigration in 2018, the highest number since 2013 when 647 clients did so, and a major increase over previous years.

Following its 2017 and 2018 lobbying efforts, Silicon Valley is on the forefront of a renewed push to pass an immigration reform bill. Executives from Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter in February signed on to a letter with more than 100 other companies urging Congressional leaders to take action to protect Dreamers., an interest group led by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and primarily funded by Silicon Valley executives, has lobbied extensively on immigration and criminal justice reform. The group spent $1.6 million lobbying over the last two years and shelled out $611,247 on Facebook ads since Facebook’s ad archive began tracking ads in May 2018.

Despite Congress’ failures to pass a bill last year, FWD is back and stressing that any new immigration legislation must permanently protect and provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers as well as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED) holders. The Trump administration terminated TPS for immigrants from Sudan, Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua but was blocked by a federal court, and DED protections for Liberian residents will expire March 31. Protection measures for TPS and DED holders were added into the Dream and Promise Act.

FWD on Wednesday flew out 75 DACA, TPS and DED recipients from 10 different states to meet with Democratic and Republican members of Congress, in a push to get a vote on an immigration reform bill in the House and Senate.

“It’s extraordinarily impactful to lift up the individual stories of the people who are impacted by these policy decisions, particularly the decisions by the Trump administration to put these individuals at risk,” said Peter Boogaard, FWD communications director.

The Democratic House is expected to pass its legislation in the coming weeks. Boogaard said FWD has supported a range of bills to protect immigrant populations, including last session’s DREAM Act and bipartisan legislation from Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Angus King (I-Maine) that garnered 54 Senate votes in 2018. He acknowledged that getting a substantial bill to the President’s desk will be a challenge, but noted that most Americans want to see a bill passed.

Every major poll reiterates that Americans want DACA recipients to be protected from deportation, but support doesn’t end there. A June 2018 Gallup poll found that 83 percent support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, including 75 percent of Republicans.

Support also comes from a diverse list of interests lobbying for protections for these immigrant populations, including unions, cities, states and trade associations.

The National Retail Federation said its members were “disappointed by the lack of progress” and the National Restaurant Association went further, saying it stands with Dreamers and that the country needs a “clear path to legalization for the more than 11 million undocumented people in the U.S.”

Universities, too, have emerged as a major lobbying coalition, with 75 universities lobbying on the issue of DACA and its related bills. On the forefront is the University of California, which spent nearly $2.3 million on lobbying over the last two years mostly on immigration-related issues and is defending DACA in court. Janet Napolitano, former homeland security secretary under Barack Obama who signed off on DACA, has run the university since 2013.

In fact, it’s hard to find a group that doesn’t want to see protections for Dreamers enacted by Congress.

NumbersUSA, which spent $480,000 lobbying each of the last three years in an attempt to put limits on immigration levels and prevent amnesty measures, may be one of the only examples, as the group has lobbied against any measure that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Pro-immigrant conservative groups, such as Americans for Prosperity and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, backed the bipartisan proposal of increased border security funding in exchange for legal protections for DACA and TPS recipients and have continued to push for a solution.

“Combining border security enhancements with relief for Dreamers and TPS recipients is a commonsense way to break the partisan divide gripping Washington,” U.S. Chamber President Thomas Donohue wrote in a January opinion piece.

But Congress did not seize the apparent opportunity, instead failing to come to an agreement then leaving major sections of the federal government shut down for a record 35 days with no reward to show for it.

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