Jeff Denham doesn’t care about the political consequences.
The congressman just wants to do what is right.
It is why he’s part of a group of moderate Republicans pushing for a floor vote this month on immigration reform.
“If this is the last thing I do as a congressman, I will be very happy,” Denham told a gathering of the Manteca Rotary last week of his bid to reform immigration.
Denham, in responding to questions, noted the stand he has taken has put him at odds with Republican House leadership that — should the GOP hold onto to the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections — could cost him the possible chairmanship of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that is key to effectively serving his district. It also runs the risk of him losing support in his re-election campaign from those who want a hardline against the Dreamers and all immigration reform.
“Ninety percent of (the Dreamers) are in college of have a job,” Denham told Rotarians.
Denham said ideally the group of moderates he is working with will be able to get a permanent solution that assures a clear path to citizenship for the so-called “Dreamers” — as many as 1.7 million who were brought to the United States by undocumented immigrant parents and who have been raised and schooled here. He told the Rotarians, however, that it may first requiring taking an intermediary step in that direction.
On Thursday, Associated Press reported that Denham had secured an offer from the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, young immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children could get a new visa that would let them stay in the country for eight years. Denham expressed uncertainty over what would happen after that, but said participants have characterized the proposal as a bridge to the legal immigration system — which suggests a pathway to remaining in the U.S. permanently.
"This was their offer to us and it's something we can agree to, but not until we see it on paper," Denham said.
The brokered deal also includes provisions for increased funding to enhance the border wall in a bid to secure President Trump’s signature if the
Denham told Rotarians a bi-partisan group of moderates advocated a plan that would have given the Dreamers a 5-year extension on their visas and — providing they continued to pay taxes and did not commit serious crimes — could pay another fee and after an additional five year period would be granted citizenship.
Conservatives have been adamant about not providing a "special" process carving out a unique way for Dreamers to gain legal status, and some of them bristled at Denham's narrower description. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., Denham's fellow moderate leader, said that while talks have focused on providing legal status to Dreamers, the proposal "does not involve a special pathway or a visa unique to any specific group."
Denham said that without a deal, the moderates' threat to force the House to consider four immigration bills remains in effect. He and Curbelo need two more GOP signatures on a petition that could force those votes, assuming all Democrats sign. If they get them by next Tuesday, the House would be on track to have those roll calls on June 25.
"We have a firm deadline of next Tuesday," Denham said. "We're prepared to have the final signatures if there's no agreement between now and then."
Denham said moderates would accept border security measures as part of the accord, including backing the full $25 billion Trump wants to construct his proposed wall with Mexico. He also said the plan would apply to more than the nearly 700,000 people who have been protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that Trump has halted. Around another 1 million immigrants are thought to have qualified for that program but not applied, by some estimates.
Denham has been advocating for immigration reform since being elected in 2010.
Seven years ago he first advanced the Enlist Act to allow Dreamers who enlist and serve honorably in the military to secure visas and eventual citizenship. It has been repeatedly rejected although Denham noted more and more members of congress that had previously opposed the bill — including Senator John McCain — supports it.
Denham told Rotarians the four bills being advanced to a vote in June 25 when two more signatures are obtained also provides for more judges to address immigration case backlogs that often take at least two years before they even get heard.
Denham said he spent extensive time with the House parliamentarian in a bid to find a way to get immigration legislation to a vote that has been repeatedly blocked from doing so. Denham and other Republicans centrists frustrated about the lack of movement on immigration reform in March decided on a course of action using rarely used House rules after Congress failed to meet a deadline imposed by President Trump to act.
Denham noted that while Trump’s deadline involved removing protected status conveyed by an executive order by former President Barack Obama, it has since been kept in place by a court injunction.
The Turlock Republican noted it still takes an act of congress to either make the visa program permanent or to create a path to citizenship.
When Obama had a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party, they failed to act on Dreamer legislation. Obama issued the executive order establishing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) when Congress didn’t act. Trump set a deadline in March for Congress to “do their job” — as he put it — to devise and implement a permanent solution that couldn’t be undone by a fiat from the executive branch.
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