Pa., N.J. Republicans fueling petition to bring DACA to House vote

Listen 4:37
The U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo, file)

The U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo, file)

President Donald Trump’s March deadline for providing a permanent fix for DACA, the deferred action for childhood arrivals program, came and went with no deal. Republican leadership in Congress has been trying to forge a solution as well. Now a group of GOP lawmakers might force leadership’s hand and bring the matter to the floor.

Without fixing DACA, the so-called Dreamers — immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — are now at risk of being deported.

U.S. Rep Leonard Lance, a Republican from central New Jersey, is one of a growing number who has signed onto a little-used tool called a “discharge petition” that enables a majority of members of the House to go over leadership and force a vote on DACA.

“Leadership has indicated that it wants to bring a bill to the floor and I think it’s time to bring a bill to the floor given the fact that the president set a deadline of March and we have now passed that deadline,” Lance said.

If only five more Republicans sign on to the discharge petition, it would likely trigger a vote because every Democrat is expected to sign once 25 Republicans do. However, there is still no consensus because the petition calls for votes on four competing immigration bills.

Lance has co-sponsored a standalone bill that would protect Dreamers without increasing border security, but his favorite bill would increase border security, while also protecting Dreamers. He thinks just having a debate could be helpful.

“I think that could lead to a consensus,” Lance said.

The lawmakers spearheading this mini-rebellion in the House are now eyeing the signature of Bucks County Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. The first-term representative also supports the DACA bill with increased border security that Lance does. Fitzpatrick says it’s a compromise.

“It’s got both a border security component and a compassionate DACA component and that’s what I believe,” he said. “I think we ought to secure our borders, but we also need to treat the DACA kids compassionately. They came into this country on average at age six through no fault of their own and they shouldn’t be forced to live with anxiety.”

Fitzpatrick is willing to sign the petition and is reviewing it, but he says he wants to give leaders time to schedule an immigration debate first. He said he just wants to figure out the best way to get the bill on the floor.

“Obviously the easiest way is for leadership to put it on the floor, so we’ll give them a chance to do that,” he said.

While Fitzpatrick may be likely to sign on, others from our region say “never.”

“I think it’s the wrong way to accomplish what they want to get done,” said South Jersey Republican U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur.

MacArthur wants a vote on immigration and agrees the debate is long overdue, but “my concern with the discharge petition is it allows the DREAM Act to be brought by the Democrats,” he said.

“They can bullet vote against everything else and put all their weight behind one bill which has no border security, and they can pass that with a handful of others and basically take control of the process,” he added.

MacArthur is in President Trump’s camp when it comes to extending any Dreamer protection legislation into a broader border security bill.

“What I support is a balance of solving the DACA problem, giving them a status, giving them permanence, but also investing in border security so we don’t have this problem all over again in a few years,” MacArthur said. “This risks blowing up and not achieving that, so I think it’s the wrong way to get to an answer on this.”

Republican leaders have said they have a bill the president supports. But Trump has not weighed in fully on the competing bills floating through Congress. Retiring Republican Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, who represents parts of four counties west of Philadelphia disagrees with GOP leaders’ plan. He wants Democrats to be a part of the solution from the beginning.

“I’ve always felt that an immigration bill should be bipartisan and there’s not been a demonstrated ability to get a Republican bill to the floor,” Costello said.

Costello says he signed the petition to force the Dreamer debate because he thinks it could actually get a bill to the president’s desk.

“So the discharge petition actually would contemplate that you’re sort of working it from the middle here, which I would think would have a higher likelihood of success in the Senate,” noting legislation needs more Democratic support to clear the upper house.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.