WASHINGTON — Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi vowed to pass legislation that would put so-called Dreamers — young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children — on a pathway to citizenship when her party retakes control of Congress' lower chamber in January.
"America draws strength from our long, proud heritage as a nation of immigrants. In the Majority, Democrats will work to reverse the Republicans' destructive anti-immigrant agenda," Pelosi said in a statement Saturday, responding to a letter sent Thursday by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. "Our House Democratic Majority will once again pass the Dream Act to end the uncertainty and fear inflicted on patriotic young men and women across the country."
Lawmakers in the Caucus urged Pelosi — who is vying to secure her second spell as speaker of the House during the upcoming congressional session — to schedule votes on legislation to codify protections for recipients of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and for immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) within the first 100 days of the 116th Congress.
"We will protect TPS recipients and those fleeing unimaginable violence," Pelosi added in her statement.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-New York, one of the members of Congress who signed the letter to Pelosi, told CBS News that Democrats should move ahead "expeditiously" in January to pass bills that shield Dreamers and TPS holders from deportation, without providing any funding for a wall on the southern border — which President Trump and many Republicans have said needs to be included in any bipartisan immigration proposal.
"I think the Dream Act should be taken on alone, with no poison pills attached to it," Espaillat said.
The congressman from New York added House Democrats should try to pass the bills within the first 100 days of the next session — something Pelosi did not promise in her statement.
"These young people are still in limbo," Espaillat said. "Had it not been for the courts, they would probably be underground, they would be in the shadows."
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The Trump administration tried to dismantle DACA, which covers approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants, in the fall of 2017 — but a prolonged court battle has kept the program alive. The Department of Homeland Security also announced the eventual termination of TPS programs for El Salvador, Honduras, Sudan and Haiti, but a federal judge blocked the decision in early October.
The government has appealed the TPS court ruling and urged the Supreme Court to hear the DACA case.
In her statement, Pelosi also suggested Democratic-controlled committees in the House will probe the White House's controversial practice of forcibly separating migrant children from their parents near the U.S.-Mexico border — which President Trump was forced to rescind by way of an executive order after a massive uproar.
"We will hold the Trump Administration accountable for their inhuman policy of separating families, and the trauma and anguish they have inflicted on vulnerable children and families at our border," she said.
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The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also stressed in their letter to Pelosi that passing comprehensive immigration reform should be a priority when Democrats take control of the House for the first time since 2011. The Latino lawmakers said the bill should include provisions to allow deported U.S. military veterans to come back to the country, end "the militarization" of the southern border, reunify still-separated migrant families and provide a pathway to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S.
"These hardworking, taxpaying undocumented workers have enriched our country, while contributing their knowledge, traditions, and intellect to the fabric of our culture. They are part of America's economic engine," they wrote in their letter.