Congresswoman Diana DeGette visited the Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah on Tuesday to address immigration reform. For nearly ten months, the shared home of those two congregations has also housed Araceli Velasquez, a Salvadoran who came to the U.S. to declare asylum but was ultimately flagged for deportation.
DeGette said she’d like to see a “Hail Mary” that would address Dreamers, families with mixed legal statuses and border security (without a wall). That option isn’t yet on the table, and it would have to receive support from the Senate and overcome a potential veto from the president. Despite the odds, it might be the only option for a family like Velasquez’s.
DeGette said that House Democrats and Republicans are a handful of votes away from completing a petition process forcing a vote on immigration, despite what she said was Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s unwillingness to raise the issue.
The procedure in question is called a “discharge reform,” what DeGette called an “arcane” House rule that allows representatives to vote on an issue without the Speaker’s consent. It needs 218 signatures to move forward. As of Wednesday, 213 had signed on.
“As you can imagine, this almost never works,” DeGette told the crowd. But, she said, “in this situation, we have a number of Republicans who have said that they also support comprehensive immigration reform.”
If they hit 218, representatives will be able to vote on one of four proposals in another arcane process known as “the queen of the hill.” The winner would proceed to the Senate.
But of the four bills that may get to the floor, none yet include DeGette’s Hail Mary. Two would allow a path to citizenship for Dreamers in exchange for increased border security. One is a harder line approach that only allows temporary protections to Dreamers. The fourth would be selected by Ryan.
DeGette hopes that fourth option could be her all-encompassing fix, but her spokesperson told Denverite it’s expected that slot will be filled by the existing DREAM Act proposal, which wouldn’t help people like Velasquez.
That would satisfy some local advocates, who just want a vote on what they think could pass.
“The discussions that are hovering about in Washington are really centered around House and Senate leadership as opposed to moving the issue forward in a common-sense way,” said Nicole Melaku, executive director of the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition, who spoke to Denverite over the phone. “They should be focusing on the DREAM act in this moment.”
But DeGette said that a “small-bore,” standalone fix for Dreamers has already failed in this Congress. That approach makes “winners and losers,” she said, so why not go for the whole package?
“I think it’s a longshot in any case,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just as easy to pass a large comprehensive bill as it is a tiny little bill.”