By Josh Leach on June 10, 2019
On Tuesday, June 4, the House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R.6), a groundbreaking bill to provide a path to citizenship for more than a million immigrants at risk of deportation and family separation. The bill passed with votes from members of both major parties, reflecting the views of the vast majority of the U.S. public who support protections for immigrant communities.
The bill’s passage in the House represents the first time permanent protections for undocumented immigrants have cleared the House or Senate in almost a decade. It is also the first time a bill containing permanent protections for holders of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) has passed a chamber of Congress in any form.
This historic victory was made possible through the tireless organizing of directly-affected immigrant communities, including UUSC’s partners the UndocuBlack Network and the National TPS Alliance.
In recent weeks, leaders with both UndocuBlack and the TPS Alliance addressed members of Congress in person. They amplified the voices of more than a million immigrants whose temporary immigration status is in jeopardy because of the President’s attempts to cancel TPS, DED, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
UndocuBlack and the TPS Alliance also used media to lift up the stories of TPS holders such as Hiwaida and Lys who are facing possible deportation from their homes and separation from their communities. In doing so, they showed the human consequences of cruel anti-immigrant policies. Together, they sent the message to Congress that, as the TPS Alliance put it: “Our lives are not temporary.”
UUSC supporters helped flank these efforts by writing to legislators around the country. In the weeks leading up to the vote, hundreds of UUSC supporters sent the message to members of Congress that DACA, DED, and TPS holders deserve permanent protections.
While there is much to celebrate in this moment, however, it does not mean the road ahead is easy. The American Dream and Promise Act faces an uphill battle. Before it can become law, it must pass the Senate and be signed by the President.
Moreover, the bill is far from perfect. In its final form, it includes a number of deeply concerning sections, which allow the Department of Homeland Security to exclude people from protections if they have certain kinds of juvenile adjudications on their records, or if they are believed to have participated in “gang-related” offenses. These new exclusions are unprecedented, having never appeared in a version of the Dream Act in the past.
The original text of the bill already included a number of sections barring people from permanent status for serious criminal convictions. In a context in which immigration law in the United States is already highly punitive, these sections—even in the original text—were needlessly heavy-handed.
Unlike the criminal exclusions in the original bill, however, the new “gang-related” exclusions do not even require a criminal conviction in court. In this way, they gravely undermine the right to due process, while contributing to false and stigmatizing narratives about immigrants and crime. Further, by allowing the government to take into account juvenile adjudications that happened when people were children, these sections threaten the right to a second chance.
It is all the more concerning that these sections were added to the bill in the form of a manager’s amendment before the Judiciary Committee hearing, instead of being voted on during the hearing itself. This allowed for minimal public scrutiny of the new sections. The inclusion of these sections in the final bill most likely reflects a cynical attempt by Democratic leadership to avoid an intra-party fight, rather than a serious effort to promote public safety.
In spite of these harmful elements, however—which we will continue to oppose as the bill moves forward—the victory in the House on June 4 remains a landmark achievement. Not only did the bill pass the chamber, but repeated efforts to add further criminalizing exclusions to its text, both during the Committee hearing and in the form of a “motion to recommit” during the floor vote, went down in well-deserved defeat.
These wins reveal once more the power of collective organizing, even in the face of a hostile administration. When directly impacted communities take action and allies raise their voices in solidarity, we can make a difference.
Photo Credit – UUSC
About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!