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Dream Act passes House

With chants of “Yes we can” raining from the rafters, House Democrats on Tuesday powered through legislation to cancel deportations and grant future citizenship rights to millions of people, in a vote that nodded more toward 2020 politics than to substantive policymaking.

The 237-187 vote was momentous, marking the first major legalization to pass the House in nearly a decade, and underscoring the ground Democrats feel they have gained on an issue both sides expect to be at the center of the presidential election.

With President Trump calling for action to solve crisis at the border, Democrats countered by casting their eye inward at the 11 million illegal immigrants who already made it across America’s boundaries and have found places in the shadows.

Democrats on Tuesday singled out more than two million of them for legalization, in what party leaders said was the first step toward a more comprehensive solution.

“We have the opportunity to be a part of history, to be on the right side of history,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told colleagues as she rallied support.

That history is not likely to be made this year, however.

Republicans who control the Senate won’t bring Mrs. Pelosi’s bill to the floor, and the White House vowed a veto anyway.

“No compromise is possible without both sides coming to the table,” the White House said in a policy statement this week.

The way Democratic leaders shepherded the bill through the chamber suggested they weren’t interested in a compromise. They allowed just two hours of floor debate and blocked the GOP from offering any amendments, effectively daring Republicans to either vote for the bill as-is, or else be labeled “anti-immigrant.”

For their part Republicans retaliated with accusations of “amnesty,” saying there was no other way to describe a measure that erased years of illegal status without requiring any significant punishment.

Critics, including the White House, said the bill sent a troubling signal to millions of people currently pondering whether to make the trip to the U.S. as the next wave of illegal immigrants.

“Either we have a way to get in legally to our country or we don’t,” said Rep. Doug Collins, Georgia Republican.

GOP lawmakers insisted they do want to protect Dreamers, but said any bill must also include new border security measures to stop future illegal immigration. They called for compromise.

Democrats, though, said the bill was already a compromise — though only among its own members.

Liberal Democrats had fought with party moderates over how generous to make the forgiveness provisions of the bill, and whether to exclude illegal immigrants with gang ties or a drunken-driving conviction.

In the end, Democrats said appearing on gang-membership databases could be used as evidence against someone, but wasn’t an automatic block. And having DUI wasn’t enough to disqualify an illegal immigrant.

Republicans attempted to force an amendment to the bill to explicitly exclude gang members — “If you’ve been designated a danger to Americans then you don’t deserve to become an American,” said Rep. Ben Kline, Virginia Republican — but his effort was shot down.

Indeed, Tuesday’s action underscored how much the immigration issue has changed over the years — and yet how little has changed in the politics.

In 2010, during a lame-duck session, Mrs. Pelosi led the House to pass legislation known as the “Dream Act,” which would have legalized illegal immigrant Dreamers who came to the U.S. as juveniles. Nearly 2 million people would have qualified for temporary legal status, but fewer than 40% of them would have gone on to gain green cards, the Migration Policy Institute estimated at the time.

This year’s bill not only includes the Dream Act, but also grants legal status to two other populations of migrants: those here under Deferred Enforced Departure or Temporary Protected Status. Both are humanitarian protections designed to be used to prevent people from being sent back home to countries torn by war, natural disasters or other mishaps.

Those protections were supposed to be temporary, giving the home countries a chance to recover. But hundreds of thousands of migrants have now been protected for more than two decades under TPS or DED.

All told, this year’s bill could grant legal protections to 2.7 million people, the MPI estimated — and the bill would create new paths to citizenship for future TPS holders.

Even as the numbers changed, so did the votes.

In the 2010 go-around, eight Republicans backed the Dream act, while 38 Democrats voted against it.

On Tuesday, the more generous legalization bill won support of every Democrat in the chamber, while adding seven Republicans.

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