Public and industry backing probably won’t help the DREAM Act in the Senate

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The DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, passed the House of Representatives this week, with seven Republicans joining a unanimous Democratic caucus in voting yes.

But the bill — formally known as the Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6) — faces a bleak outlook in the Republican-held Senate, and a certain veto from President Donald Trump if it manages to arrive at his desk.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the upper chamber is unlikely to vote on the House’s version of the bill. He said he would like to see broader immigration legislation that would force some liberal Democrats to compromise on increased spending for border security.

Although Congress has not passed major immigration reform since the 1980s, lobbying on the issue remains strong. More than 400 organizations have lobbied on immigration so far in 2019. A record 647 groups lobbied on immigration in 2013, when a different version of the DREAM Act was under consideration.

The fight over the DREAM Act dates back nearly two decades. The first version of the bill was introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in 2001, but various similar bills have repeatedly stalled over the last 18 years.

The most recent version passed by the House this week would allow roughly 2.5 million undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, including members of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, to gain citizenship if they meet certain requirements. It would also allow hundreds of thousands of other immigrants who have been in the country under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to gain permanent residency. A poll conducted in May by the Global Strategy group found that 77 percent of likely 2020 voters supported creating a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.

Pro-immigrant nonprofit groups that lobbied on the bill included the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), J Street and FWD.us.

“The passage of the Dream and Promise Act is a testament to the work, commitment and growing power of immigrant communities and the movement for immigrant justice,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the NILC, in a statement. “This victory, eight years in the making, is more urgent now than ever before.”

Both the NILC and FWD.us ran Facebook ads in the days preceding the vote, and FWD.us flew out DACA recipients to Washington to meet with legislators earlier this year.

The DREAM Act also had a number of supporters in the corporate sphere. In February, leaders of more than 100 major companies published an open letter to Congressional leaders in both parties encouraging them to protect Dreamers, or DACA recipients. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group, also favored H.R. 6.

“Our communities, businesses, and economy are all made stronger by the many contributions of Dreamers and TPS recipients, said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy offer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a statement after the bill passed the House.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) was another group that lobbied on H.R. 6. The AHLA wrote a letter to McConnell and Senate Majority Leader. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in 2018 noting that the hotel industry is a significant employer of DACA recipients.

Few groups appeared to oppose the bill. NumbersUSA, a nonprofit organization that advocates for substantially reducing immigration levels, spent $120,000 lobbying so far this year, weighing in on H.R. 6 as well as policies regarding asylum-seekers at the border and other immigration issues. The group also spent nearly $15,000 on anti-DREAM Act ads on Facebook in the two days leading up to the vote, targeting voters in 25 Democratic-held House districts.
None of the groups that bought Facebook ads in anticipation of the House vote are continuing to run ads, a reflection of the bill’s near-certain death in the Senate.

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