2 Michigan GOP reps back maneuver to force U.S. House immigration votes

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Two Michigan lawmakers are among a group of Republicans who want to force a debate on immigration in Congress against the wishes of leadership, teeing up a potential showdown on the House floor over the so-called Dreamers.

Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, support a procedural maneuver to bypass the committee process and line up votes later this month on four immigration bills. It includes one bill that would protect the children of undocumented immigrants, or Dreamers, from deportation. 

More: House GOP in 11th-hour attempt for immigration accord

The discharge petition needs 218 signatures to advance and had 215 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Nearly all House Democrats, including Michigan Reps. Sander Levin of Royal Oak, Dan Kildee of Flint Township, Debbie Dingell of Dearborn and Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, signed on after calling for months for an immigration votes. 

Upton was one of the first 10 lawmakers to sign the discharge petition. He expressed frustration that GOP leaders hadn't taken action on immigration reform.

"The longer you do nothing, it perpetuates a broken system," Upton said Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol. 

He noted it's been three months since the March 5 deadline that President Donald Trump gave Congress to restore or reform the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that Trump rescinded last fall.

The program gives immigrants brought to the country as children permission to live and work in the United States for renewable, two-year periods. Without that protection, the "Dreamers" risk deportation when their status expires.

"Nothing has happened. No bills out of committee. Nothing is out there," Upton said.

Dave Trott

Trott, who is retiring at the end of the December, said he hopes the discharge petition results in a deal or vote that provides legal status for Dreamers, as well as increased border security. 

"It's important to get something to the floor for a vote, even if Mitch McConnell won't take it up," Trott said, referring to the Republican Senate majority leader. 

"We need to address the DACA kids, so they have certainty and closure.

"We were told this morning we have more jobs available than people," he added. "That suggests that keeping these young men and women here as part of our economy and society with legal status makes sense."

House leaders are working to negotiate an agreement between centrist Republicans and the conservative House Freedom Caucus before supporters of the discharge petition secure the 218 signatures needed to move their proposal to the floor.

The two sides were meeting again Wednesday afternoon, and the entire GOP conference convenes to discuss the issue Thursday morning. 

"My prediction is, if they don’t get an agreement this afternoon, then things blow up and the discharge petition then moves forward," Upton said Wednesday. 

"It’s my understanding that we have the signatures to go over 218. We’re holding off to see if we can come to an agreement."

Upton, Trott and Kildee have co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would provide a fix for DACA and boost funding for border security, but not the border wall Trump seeks. 

That bill, the USA Act, introduced by Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas and Pete Aguilar, D-California, is among the four immigration bills that would get a floor vote under the discharge petition. 

"The advantage to this approach is that it allows multiple ideas to go to the floor and allow the one with the strongest support to become law — or at least pass the House, Kildee said. 

"There are more than enough Republicans who would vote for one of these bills, and I think more than enough to vote for Hurd-Aguilar that it would succeed in a queen-of-the-hill strategy. They just need to have the courage to put their name down." 

GOP Rep. Justin Amash, who represents the Grand Rapids area, is a Freedom Caucus member but he said he is not directly involved in immigration negotiations. 

"People have the right under our rules to bring up a discharge petition, and that’s what they’re doing," Amash said. 

"I think the speaker should have a more open process. Speaker (Paul) Ryan has failed at the basics of being a speaker, and that’s why people are resorting to these sorts of actions."

Amash supports immigration reform, including legal status for Dreamers. He would like to see an “amendable” process whereby members may introduce amendments to whatever bill is brought to the floor.

“Let’s have a whole bunch of votes and find out where the House stands,” Amash said.

Upton's support for the discharge petition isn't surprising considering his longtime push for immigration reform.

He said he is often pressed on the issue by Dreamers, businesses and farmers who rely immigrant labor in his southwest Michigan district. 

"I have individual farmers who, again, will leave hundreds of thousands of unpicked crops on the vine this season," Upton said. 

Last month, Upton met with a family with twin boys — their mother is a U.S. citizen who married an immigrant who entered the country illegally. 

"He rides his bike to work because he’s petrified that he’s going to be picked up for having no driver’s license," Upton said.

"I run into stories like that all the time. The longer we do nothing — it’s just untenable."