Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., defended his backing of a petition to force a vote on several immigration reform proposals over the objection of his own party’s leadership as the only way to get Congress to address an urgent issue, but a fellow House Republican warned that proceeding with the effort amounts to ceding power to the Democratic minority.
“Our goal is to force Congress to do its job,” Valadao said Wednesday. “I know its not the best way, but at the end of the day, we’ve waited long enough and its time to start doing our job.”
Valadao was one of the first Republicans to sign a bipartisan discharge petition that would set up a so-called “queen of the hill” debate over competing pieces of legislation to resolve the status of young undocumented immigrants who received legal protection under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
President Donald Trump announced last fall that he would end the program, which enabled people brought to the country illegally as children to work and live openly. Though Trump planned to shutter DACA in March, his order to do so has been stalled by legal challenges.
Trump has said he would support providing some type of legal status to so-called Dreamers if Congress also provided funding for a border wall and changed the legal immigration system to prioritize merit and skills rather than family relationships. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he only wants to allow a vote on a bill the president supports.
The discharge petition would circumvent Ryan’s opposition, allowing a floor debate and a vote on several bills that would resolve the DACA issue, with the one that gets the most votes advancing. At this point, 21 Republicans have signed the petition. It would need the support of 25 Republicans and all 193 House Democrats to move forward.
The petition seeks votes on four bills:
- A conservative proposal introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, that provides some protection for Dreamers but also meets Trump’s demands for legal immigration reform
- The Dream Act, which would offer a path to citizenship for Dreamers
- An immigration bill chosen by Ryan
- The USA Act, which pairs legal status for Dreamers with increased border security
Valadao emphasized that one slot is being held open for whatever legislation Speaker Ryan wants to put forth. He acknowledged the discharge petition is a controversial move, but he also noted that Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., signed similar petitions when they were in the minority.
“It’s not what you want to do in the majority because you like to work through the process,” he said. “The problem is our process has a bottleneck.”
Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., who supports the Goodlatte-McCaul bill, said the House should address immigration, but a discharge petition is the wrong way to get the issue to the floor.
“Essentially you’re giving the Democrats, who are the minority in the House, the ability to run the House,” he said. “We control the House.”
In addition to resolving illegal immigration issues, LaHood argued the U.S. needs to reform its legal immigration system to compete with countries like Canada, England, and France that seek skilled applicants.
“People tend to forget we have one of the most generous legal immigration systems in the world,” he said. “We let in about 1.1 million legal immigrants a year, but we have to move to a more skills-based, merit-based immigration system. Only 8 percent of that 1.1 million that we let in every year are based on skills or merit.”
When the Senate held a debate and a series of votes on immigration earlier this year, a bill similar to the Goodlatte legislation got the fewest votes, but none of the bills received enough votes to pass.
Despite the intraparty conflict the discharge petition has caused, Valadao just views it as doing what lawmakers were sent to Washington to do.
“Having a debate and having the ability to offer amendments, make changes, and pass legislation that can actually be passed into law is something every member of Congress should want,” he said.