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Immigration issues divide Congress following recess

CapitolWASHINGTON, D.C. – Although Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is making headlines, last week, the U.S. House instead debated another immigration-related measure: the Criminal Alien Gang Removal Act.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.-10) and allows law enforcement to keep in custody those suspected of being members of gangs pending immigration hearings and deport or deny lawful immigrant status to people with a history of gang membership. Republicans speaking on behalf of the rule – the formal resolution that allows a bill to come up for debate and spells out the procedures for that debate – on Wednesday said the underlying bill will protect Americans from gangs like MS-13 that are “terrorizing” communities. And several local examples were given to support the claim.

“In northern Virginia, there have been eight murders that have been attributed to MS-13 since last November. This is unacceptable,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.-9). “In yet another instance, a sheriff's deputy in Frederick County, Md., was attacked by a known member of MS-13. The gang member had been previously apprehended and released by Customs and Border Patrol.”

He also cited “a police chief in Maryland” whom he did not identify further saying MS-13 has increased its efforts at intimidating and extorting immigrant families. The rule passed by a 222-186 vote, with Prince George’s County’s Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-5) and Anthony Brown (D-4) voting ‘no.’

Both men also voted against passage of the underlying bill the next day, but the measure carried with a 233-175 vote. All of the “nay” votes were Democrats, except for Republican Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.-3).

Democrats, during the floor debate of the rule, expressed concerns about the procedures followed in bringing the bill to the floor. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.-20) said the bill was just introduced the Thursday prior and had had no committee hearings before the vote. He questioned why the Republican leadership would rush this measure through but not work on DACA, which allows children brought into the country illegally by their parents – sometimes referred to as “Dreamers” – to remain in the U.S.

“Challenged by their leader (President) Donald John Trump to fix DACA, House leadership instead brings this bill to the table, a bill that does nothing but peddle in the politics of fear,” Hastings said. “We need only to look at the despair the Republican Party has cast on the 800,000 Dreamers who live in this country.”

Trump has tweeted that he would end DACA, then that he would “revisit” the issue in six months, then appeared to soften his stance on letting Dreamers stay in the country. Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress are working on a deal to preserve DACA in exchange for a border security bill.

On Wednesday, however, the ball was still in Congress’ court after Trump said it was up to the legislature to come up with a proposal, and Democrats attempted to make an amendment to the rule to call up HR 3440, the Dream Act, for debate. The bill would make permanent via legislation the DACA program which former President Barack Obama instituted by executive order.

“Instead of dealing with such draconian legislation, we should really be talking about the positive contributions that immigrants make in this country and the fact that we have over 800,000 Dreamers in this country who are waiting for this Congress to act... to provide a legislative solution,” said Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.-38). “Stop paying lip service to these talented young people. Provide them a path to hope and a path to be able to contribute to this country.”

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