WASHINGTON – The House appears headed to a showdown over immigration, and Rep. Chris Collins' support of the "Dreamers" is one reason why.
Following up on a vow he made last September to push a bill that would provide a solution for those young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, Collins this month became one of 20 House Republicans to sign onto an effort to push such legislation to a vote.
He did so to try to force Congress to do something it has been unable to do.
“President Trump made a commitment to the American people that he would fix our broken immigration system," Collins, a Republican from Clarence, said Friday. "Unfortunately, Congress has failed to advance legislation to accomplish this task."
To advance such legislation, Collins and 20 other Republicans have signed onto what's called a discharge petition, which can force legislation to the House floor – even if House leadership opposes the move – if a majority of members sign onto it.
Given that all 193 House Democrats are likely to sign the discharge petition to force a fix for the Dreamers to the House floor, 25 House Republicans would have to sign on, too, to force a vote. Republicans who back the Dreamers believe they have enough lawmakers willing to sign to get them over the threshold, as some GOP lawmakers appear to be strategically withholding their signatures in hopes of forging a more comprehensive solution on immigration.
Asked why he had not yet signed the discharge petition, Rep. Tom Reed – a Corning Republican who has also advocated a long-term solution for the Dreamers – said in a phone interview: "Stay tuned."
Both Reed and Collins said they believe a solution for the Dreamers had to be part of a larger bill addressing border security – which, to many Republicans, includes funding for President Trump's long-promised wall at the Mexican border – as well as immigration.
"I believe that signing the discharge petition gives Congress the best opportunity to get a bill to the floor that delivers on Trump’s promise to secure our border, end chain migration, and crack down on sanctuary cities," Collins said.
Reed agreed. He said there are only about 200 Dreamers in his Southern Tier district, but he supports a solution for them for a simple reason.
"It's the right thing to do," he said. "And border security also has to be addressed. Anything that's going to pass in the House is going to have to address both, not as a Democrat-Republican thing, but as a win-win for both sides."
Like Reed, Collins has been a longtime supporter of legislation providing a legislative fix for the Dreamers.
“Just like President Trump and other members of Congress, I recognize that these young men and women were brought to our country illegally, with no fault of their own,” Collins said last September. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to create long-term certainty for these individuals.”
Those young undocumented immigrants are set to lose their temporary legal status thanks to President Trump's decision to end an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allowed them to get work permits and freed them from the fear of deportation.
In February, Reed and other members of the "Problem Solvers Caucus," which he co-chairs, sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, asking him to bring legislation solving the Dreamers issue to the House floor.
Since then, though, the fix for the Dreamers has gotten stuck in a thicket of immigration issues roiling the Republican caucus in the House.
The depth of those problems spilled into full view Friday as members of the far-right Freedom Caucus voted with Democrats to kill a wide-ranging, must-pass farm bill that also calls for big changes to the food stamp program.
Rep. Mark Meadows, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the Freedom Caucus, told reporters Thursday that members might withhold their votes for the farm bill in order to force a vote on a hard-line immigration bill.
"We believe a vote on immigration would be critical to get done before the farm bill," he said.
The bill Meadows support includes a DACA fix, but also border wall funding and a host of other tough immigration measures that would cause problems for the legislation in the Senate, where Democrats have the leverage to kill such bills.
Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat who signed the discharge petition on the Dreamers legislation on Thursday, said the failed farm bill vote illustrates a lack of strong leadership among House Republicans.
Higgins said he supports the discharge petition not only because a DACA fix helps young immigrants who deserve a chance to make it in America, but also because "it brings us back to the democratic way of doing things."
House Speaker Paul Ryan isn't so enamored of the move, though.
“Obviously, we don’t like discharge petitions,” he told reporters Thursday.