N.J. dreamers hope they’ll become citizens -- and not deported by Trump -- under new push by House Dems

Posted Mar 14, 2019

WASHINGTON — Rey Amaya, a sophomore engineering student at Fairleigh Dickinson University, is in line for an internship this summer. But the job lasts until the end of August and Amaya has no assurances he will be able to remain in the U.S. that long.

He’s applied to renew his status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (better known as DACA) that the federal courts so far have blocked President Donald Trump from doing away with. But he doesn’t know the outcome.

Brought to the country at age 5 from El Salvador, Amaya, 19, grew up in the U.S. but could face deportation if Trump gets his way.

So Amaya has put his hopes in legislation introduced earlier this week by House Democrats. The Dream and Promise Act would allow the so-called dreamers like Amaya to remain in the U.S. for at least 10 years, and permanently if they spent two years in college or in the military or hold a steady job.

“I consider this country my home,” Amaya said Thursday on a conference call with lawmakers and advocates organized by Make the Road New Jersey, an Elizabeth-based group that helps unauthorized immigrants.

The bill “would give us a full belonging in our country. This legislation is an important first step.”

Trump revoked protections for the dreamers in September 2017, overturning President Barack Obama’s order allowing them to stay.

Lawmakers then sought to work with the president on a bipartisan immigration bill, including funding for a southern border wall and letting the dreamers remain in the U.S., but Trump rejected the effort, saying he did not want immigrants from “shithole countries.”

The president also sought to end temporary protected status to immigrants escaping violence or natural disasters. One of those with such status, Sonia Yanes, came from Honduras and also would be protected from deportation under the House Democrats’ legislation.

“It’s a piece of mind for me and my family,” said Yanes, of Dover, who earned her masters degree in the U.S. and is now working as a manager in a pharmaceutical factory. “This will bring relief to all of us. This country is my home country. I love this country.”

The legislation would affect as many as 115,000 Garden State residents, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a progressive research group.

House Republicans in 2013 refused to take up a Senate-passed bipartisan immigration bill that would have strengthened border security and offered a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants, and have failed to pass any bill since then.

But the Democratic takeover of the chamber last November, combined with Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and his stepped-up deportation efforts, has given the issue new life.

“Times have changed drastically,” said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12th Dist. “This is a bill that is going to pass and it’s going to pass by a very good margin.”

Then it will be up to the Republican-controlled Senate. “We have to do our collective lobbying and we’ll do some praying on this,” Watson Coleman said.

The legislation is one of several bills that House Democrats have moved on since regaining their majority. Others include overhauling campaign finance and ethics laws, strengthening background checks for gun purchases, and extending the Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“Many of the areas of interest to the American people we couldn’t do anything about in the last Congress,” said Rep. Donald Norcross, D-1st Dist. “Now with the massive shift in the House, we have that opportunity.”

Norcross and Watson Coleman are two of the eight New Jersey lawmakers co-sponsoring the measure. The others are Reps. Andy Kim, D-3rd Dist.; Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th Dist.; Tom Malinowski, D-7th Dist.; Albio Sires, D-8th Dist.; Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9th Dist.; and Donald Payne Jr., D-10th Dist.

The bill has 208 House sponsors in total.

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