A Republican-led effort to force a vote on stalled legislation in Congress that would give undocumented "dreamers" the chance to stay in the U.S. permanently drew praise Wednesday from the Arizona Dream Act Coalition.
"It’s good that they are pushing to have the debate," said Karina Ruiz, the group’s president.
But Ruiz said she is concerned the effort was timed by Republicans to gain favor with Latino voters heading into the November midterm elections, where the GOP is facing tight races.
"My fear is that they are using us again as political pawns and this is not a serious attempt and they are not going to go beyond this," she said.
Several bills aimed at allowing undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and known as dreamers remain stalled in Congress since the Senate failed to pass legislation in February.
But on Wednesday, four Republican lawmakers used a rare congressional maneuver in an attempt to bypass GOP leadership and try to force a vote in the House on a series of stalled bills aimed at protecting dreamers, USA TODAY reported.
The Arizona Dream Act Coalition has led national efforts to push Congress to pass legislation offering dreamers a chance to legalize their immigration status permanently. Ruiz is herself a dreamer. She was brought to the U.S. when she was 15 and earned a degree in biochemistry from Arizona State University. Like other dreamers, she has been unable to legalize her status through other channels.
She said she recognizes the latest attempt to pass Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, legislation in Congress faces an uphill battle.
The maneuver needs support from at least 25 Republicans, presuming the 193 Democrats in the House sign on. As of Wednesday, at least 15 Republicans had signed on, USA TODAY reported.
Republicans and Democrats would then need to agree on a bill with enough support to pass the House and the Senate.
That would be a difficult task given the lack of support from House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump’s repeated statements that he will not sign a bill that offers legal status to dreamers without including billions in funding to construct his promised border wall, as well as provisions to curtail legal immigration, something opposed by many Democrats and some Republicans.
"The president and the speaker of the house continue to be roadblocks, but we will continue local efforts to keep the pressure on Congress," Ruiz said.
Trump tossed the issue of how to address the legal status of dreamers into the hands of Congress when he announced in September he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Former President Barack Obama created the program in 2012 to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from being deported.
Under the program, dreamers can apply for renewable two-year permits to live and work temporarily in the U.S. in exchange for registering with the government and meeting other criteria.
The program was supposed to end in March. But it remains active after three federal judges in separate rulings said the way Trump ended DACA was improper.
Two of the judges have ordered the government to continue accepting renewal applications until the legality of the program itself is settled in the courts. A third judge said the government will need to return to accepting new DACA applications if the Trump administration can’t present a stronger legal argument for ending the program.