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As Activists and Candidates Talk Immigration Reform in 2020, What’s Congress Doing Now?

Yesterday, we took a closer look at what immigrant communities here in Nevada are experiencing and what the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates promise to do about it. Yet while the candidates are campaigning, legislators are legislating (or at least attempting to). So today let’s check in on what’s happening in Congress right now, including what Nevada’s members of Congress are doing to protect our local immigrant communities.

“This administration is targeting immigrants who are deeply woven into our communities, and this inhumane approach must end”
– U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D)
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Photo by Andrew Davey

Earlier today, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto took to the Senate floor to speak on the End Mass Deportation Act. She first introduced S 415 in January 2017 to rescind President Donald Trump’s executive order to prioritize the vast majority of immigrants with undocumented status for deportation and deny federal funds to municipalities he deems “sanctuary cities”. Federal courts have since ruled against Trump’s attempts to penalize “sanctuary cities” as such, but he has proceeded to build and accelerate his administration’s deportation regime here in Nevada and throughout the nation.

In announcing her reintroduction of this bill, Cortez Masto said, “I take the floor today to urge my colleagues to halt the President’s indiscriminate deportation machine. This administration is targeting immigrants who are deeply woven into our communities, and this inhumane approach must end.” Cortez Masto then highlighted the story of David Chavez-Macias, a Reno resident who was stopped by police in 2013 for turning left when a stoplight was changing, as a cautionary tale of what will continue to happen if Congress doesn’t serve as a check and balance to a White House run amok.

Immigrants enlarge our vision of who we live with, work with, and worship with. Yet, this Administration continues to target immigrants who are deeply woven into our communities. I’m speaking on the Senate floor to say this inhumane approach must end. My End Mass Deportation Act will remind all Americans that every generation of immigrants enriches the fabric of our nation. Today, I’m urging my colleagues to halt the President’s indiscriminate deportation machine and support my legislation. WATCH:

Posted by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto on Thursday, May 23, 2019


While federal immigration authorities largely left Chavez Macias alone during Barack Obama’s presidency, they acted under Trump’s “zero tolerance” directive to deport him to Mexico, leaving his children without their father. For Cortez Masto, “This is why I’m introducing this bill, to keep the Trump administration from pursuing people like David.”

She continued, “In Nevada, almost 90% of undocumented residents have lived in the United States for five years or more. These people own their own homes. These people pay millions in taxes. Their children are citizens, permanent residents, and DREAMers. They are our neighbors, our coworkers, and our friends.” Cortez Masto later added, “We need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. But until we come together in a bipartisan way, we must rescind these executive orders that are not moving this debate forward in a useful way.”

“It’s Congress’ job to conduct oversight and to hold agencies accountable when they implement harmful policies.”
– U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D), in a February 5 press release
Photo by Andrew Davey

With Republicans still holding a majority in the U.S. Senate, and with Republican leaders closely aligning with Trump on nearly every issue, it isn’t easy for Democratic Senators to move any pro-immigrant legislation. Nevertheless, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen persist and keep trying.

As the Trump administration continues to separate refugee families and incarcerate many of them at the border, Cortez Masto and Rosen sponsored the Keep Families Together Act (S 292) in January to end Trump’s refugee family separation policy and prohibit future separation of migrant children from their parents or legal guardians within 100 miles of the border “except in the case of extraordinary circumstances”. And this month, Rosen is co-sponsoring legislation to exempt children of Filipino World War II veterans from caps on immigrant visas.

In a press release on the Keep Families Together Act, Rosen said, “It’s Congress’ job to conduct oversight and to hold agencies accountable when they implement harmful policies, and there are many questions about this policy that this Administration needs to answer. I hope that the President can put an end to his political games and come to the table to negotiate and finally pass comprehensive immigration reform that both secures our borders and moves our country forward.”

“I’ll continue to fight for the simple idea that the symbol of the United States of America should remain the Statue of Liberty, not an ineffective border wall.”
– Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), in a May 16 statement
Photo by Andrew Davey

The Senate may still be an uphill battle on immigration reform, but the playing field has definitely changed in the House since 2018’s “Blue Wave” ushered in a new Democratic majority. In March, Reps. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) and Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) sponsored the American Dream and Promise Act (HR 6) to provide a path to citizenship for DREAMers and more lasting legal protection for refugees who’ve been covered under the TPS and DED programs, programs that Trump is now attacking and rolling back (along with DACA).

Yet while this and other pro-immigrant bills will have a tougher time in the Senate (see above), the Democratic-run House has already begun leaving its mark on immigration policy by challenging Trump’s anti-immigrant actions. Back in January, House and Senate Democrats succeeded in making Trump agree to reopen the federal government after he launched a month-long shutdown to try to force them to agree to $5 billion or more in border wall funding. Trump has since attempted to invoke “emergency powers” to “build the wall” without Congressional authorization, but that’s now being litigated in court while Congress still looks unlikely to give Trump any money for his desired border wall or his other “zero tolerance” programs. Instead, the House has finally begun using its investigation and oversight powers to challenge Trump’s “zero tolerance” agenda.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Perhaps the current environment under a Democratic-run House can be best summarized by Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), who made this statement following the White House’s unveiling of Jared Kushner’s “immigration plan”: “I stopped listening to the details of Trump’s new immigration plan after I heard it didn’t include a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers. I’ll continue to fight for the simple idea that the symbol of the United States of America should remain the Statue of Liberty, not an ineffective border wall.”

We may have to wait for a new president before we see any kind of comprehensive immigration reform become new law, but the new Congress is at least making some change in pushing back on the current President’s anti-immigrant agenda.

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