WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday approved protections for undocumented immigrants, including those brought into the country as children.
The legislation would offer a pathway to citizenship for those young people, often referred to as “Dreamers,” and would also cover those with temporary protected status (TPS) whose home countries have been devastated by natural disasters or armed conflicts.
The 237-187 vote fell mostly along party lines, with Democrats backing it and most Republicans opposed.
Just seven House Republicans crossed the aisle to support the legislation. Rep. Don Bacon was one of them.
The Omaha area congressman said he wrestled with what he views as serious flaws in the measure but ultimately felt he had to support the Dreamers and TPS recipients.
“They want a future in our country and I wanted to show commitment to them as well,” Bacon said.
Leading Republicans criticized the bill, saying it would extend well beyond just Dreamers and TPS recipients, ultimately covering more than 2 million people.
And they said it includes loopholes that would allow criminals to be eligible.
Democrats pushed back, saying there are provisions to keep those who have committed serious offenses from benefiting.
Bacon has been a reliable vote for his party and President Donald Trump on many pressing issues, but he has identified immigration generally — and Dreamers specifically — as an area where he is willing to break ranks.
Bacon also stressed that he has supported, and continues to support, robust border security measures.
He said Democrats are fooling themselves if they think the legislation will go anywhere in the Senate absent enhanced border security and bipartisan compromises.
But he said he wanted to support Tuesday’s bill with the hope that the Senate will improve it and send it back. He said he’s met with many DACA and TPS recipients back in Nebraska.
“They’re in no man’s land, and we should provide them some security,” Bacon said. “I’ve committed to these guys that I would not forget them.”
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The chambers of commerce of Lincoln and Omaha last week came out in favor of the bill, pointing out the importance of immigration to the state’s economy. According to a recent study, there are an estimated 150,000 immigrants living in Nebraska, spending $2.9 billion annually and paying $344 million in state and local taxes.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services estimated that there were 3,100 active DACA recipients in Nebraska as of September 2017. Iowa had 2,500.
Nebraska Appleseed thanked Bacon for his support in a press release and said the bill creates a long overdue process for longtime TPS residents and Dreamers — like the group’s Immigrants and Communities Organizer, Alejandra Ayotitla.
“We are your coworkers, teachers, accountants, counselors, and more than anything, we are your neighbors,” Ayotitla said in the release. “We have been contributing for many decades to our communities across Nebraska. This represents a hopeful step closer to a brighter, stable future for many of us who call this country our home.”
Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, also supported the bill, while Bacon’s fellow Nebraska Republican Reps. Adrian Smith and Jeff Fortenberry voted against it.
Fortenberry said he has voted for Dreamer protections in the past when they were paired with border security and other provisions.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, opposed the bill and denounced it as “pure amnesty.” The outspoken immigration hardliner said that he thinks the handful of Republicans who support it are just assuming it won’t go anywhere.
During a speech on the House floor, King said the measure serves as an advertisement for more people to enter the country illegally. And he said it undermines the country’s immigration laws.
“I don’t think this bill goes anywhere, but if it does, it could be the destruction of the rule of law and the fracture of the United States of America,” King said.
World-Herald staff writer Henry J. Cordes contributed to this report.
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