Immigration legislation worries ‘dreamers’

They fear impact of amendment on their legal status
Reyna Montoya graduated from Arizona State University with degrees in political science and transborder studies. Montoya, an undocumented immigrant brought to the U.S. illegally from Mexico by her mother when she was a teenager, received deferred-action status in November.
Patrick Breen/The Republic

  • Our view: Don’t push reform too far right

    By Rebekah L. Sanders and Daniel GonzálezThe Republic | azcentral.comSat Jun 8, 2013 8:59 PM
    A U.S. House immigration amendment that has no chance of success in the Senate still caused panic among young Arizona undocumented immigrants in recent days and has sent up red flags about the long-term chances of immigration reform in Congress.
    The Hail Mary legislation laid bare fissures in Arizona’s House delegation on immigration reform. Arizona’s five Democrats opposed it, and four Republicans supported it, even as the state’s Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, are staking their reputations on reform in the upper chamber. The state’s swing Democrats, in an unprecedented move, issued a joint statement criticizing the amendment. It passed 224-201 along party lines as Democrats on the floor booed.
    “Tea party” conservative Rep. Steve King of Iowa tacked the measure onto a separate homeland security bill over Republican leaders’ objections. It aims to block a program launched by President Barack Obama to protect young people brought to the United States illegally as minors, sometimes referred to as “dreamers,” from deportation.
    The program allows undocumented immigrants under 31 years old who came to the U.S. before they were 16 and have lived in this country for five consecutive years to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation, known as deferred action.
    To be eligible, applicants must be high-school graduates, have obtained a GED, be currently in school, or honorably discharged from the military and must not have committed any felony crimes or multiple misdemeanors.
    King’s amendment would defund the program.
    The White House called the amendment “extreme” and “contrary to our most deeply-held values as Americans.” Conservatives argued the legislation pushes back against the president’s overreaching executive orders.
    The symbolic fight shows how far apart the House and Senate remain on immigration reform, particularly in addressing the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, said Jack Pitney Jr., a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California.
    The Senate began preliminary debate of immigration reform Friday and plans to vote on the bill before the July 4 recess. A bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” including Flake and McCain, hammered out the legislation and shepherded it through committee markups in the face of 300 potential poison-pill amendments. The House has started committee hearings on parts of immigration reform, but many Republicans are resisting the kind of comprehensive package the Senate put together.
    The King amendment “is a clear sign that the two chambers have deep differences,” Pitney said. “House Republicans seem to be placing far more emphasis on border security than on setting some kind of legal status for undocumented aliens. And the members of the Senate are trying to do both.”
    Young undocumented immigrants in Arizona who were granted deferred action began worrying they could lose that protection and have to leave the country when they heard about the amendment passing Thursday.
    “People were really scared,” said Carmen Cornejo of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, which advocates for the dreamers.
    Many dreamers were under the impression that the House vote put the amendment into law, Cornejo said. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the proposal is “dead on arrival” in the Senate, and the White House promised the president’s veto.
    As of April 30, more than 12,000 applications for the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, had been approved in Arizona, which young immigrants hope will give them a leg up on gaining full legal status if Congress passes a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship. A total of 2,352 applications have been denied nationally.
    Reyna Montoya, 22, of Mesa, said the vote caused fear among deferred-action recipients. Montoya, an undocumented immigrant brought to the U.S. illegally from Mexico by her mother when she was a teenager, received deferred-action status in November. The program allows her to live and work legally in the U.S. for two years without threat of deportation.
    “There was a lot of anxiety,” said Montoya, who works for United We Dream, a national group pushing to get a bill passed that would allow the young people to legalize their status. “The biggest fear is that they cannot be in the country and might have to leave.”
    Montoya said she has been getting the word out through Facebook and other social media. She has been telling undocumented immigrants that the House vote is not final in order to alleviate fearsthat the program could be defunded.
    “I was just taken aback that they were trying to attack dreamers when we are trying to come to a compromise,” said Montoya, who graduated from Arizona State University last year with degrees in political science and transborder studies. “These politicians are really playing with our lives.”
    Viviana Vazquez, 20, also received deferred action in November. The Phoenix resident said she was brought to the U.S. by her parents illegally from Mexico when she was 8 months old.
    Vazquez said deferred action allowed her to return as a full-time student at Phoenix College, which charges deferred-action recipients cheaper in-state tuition.
    “The first thing I thought about was my education: Am I going to be able to continue to go to college?” she said.
    Cornejo said the Republican-led attempt may hurt efforts by some GOP leaders to rehabilitate the party’s image among Latinos after November’s drubbing in the presidential election. More than 70 percent of Hispanics voted for Obama.
    “We hoped that the Republicans understood the importance of the Latino vote last November,” Cornejo said. “But to attack (the deferred-action policy) feels so much like an insult.”
    Frank Sharry, executive director of pro-reform America’s Voice, on Friday said House GOP leaders made a mistake in allowing the King amendment to move forward. But he said it’s probably not fatal to immigration-reform efforts.
    “I think for a lot of House Republicans, they were taking a shot at Obama and executive authority,” Sharry said during a media conference call. “They think this administration uses too much executive authority on a range of issues. They used it on deferred action for dreamers and, I’m sure, many of them thought, ‘We’re not against dreamers. We’re just against Obama.’ But, in any case, they did trample dreamers’ dreams in the process.”
    Curbing executive power is how Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., explained his vote to The Republic on Friday. His goal, he said, was pushing back against the long arm of the president.
    Salmon recently was confronted by dreamers who packed town halls in Mesa and Gilbert asking for his support of the Dream Act and immigration reform. He said by the end of the night, he had explained his concerns on reform and the discussions were cordial. A spokeswoman said at one point activists began chanting his name.
    A few days later, Salmon voted for the King amendment, as well as pushed through his own amendment cracking down on so-called illegal-immigration “sanctuary cities.”
    “The Obama Administration is intent on granting de facto amnesty to some illegal immigrants by choosing to not fully execute federal immigration laws. This is unacceptable,” Salmon said in a written statement. “We have an immigration system that is broken and must be fixed with a focus on border security, fairness, and a robust guest-worker program. Instead of working with Congress, the Administration’s unilateral actions serve to further complicate this very real issue and do nothing to solve our broken immigration system.”
    Sharry said the blowback from the vote means there’s now even more pressure on House Republicans to do something on immigration reform.
    Pitney sees one way the King amendment could help its chances. Republicans may be able to tout the vote to their constituents, buying cover for support of an immigration package down the road, he said.
    “I think a lot of Republicans saw it as a free vote because they realized it wouldn’t actually go into law,” he said. “They have a word for it: a one-house bill.”
    Reporter Dan Nowicki contributed to this article.