It’s not often that Rep. Chris Collins differs with Republican Party leadership on legislative issues. That’s why it was front-page news this week when the Clarence congressman joined an effort to force a vote in the House on a bill to protect “Dreamers” from deportation.
Collins is one of 20 Republicans backing a discharge petition, a move that can bypass party leadership and force a bill onto the House floor, to get a vote on legislation to protect these innocents: undocumented aliens who were brought here as children by their parents. He is taking a welcome stand to try to help a segment of the population that is vulnerable to political abuse through no fault of its own.
President Trump last September ordered an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects immigrants who had been brought to the United States illegally as young children. The president urged Congress to come up with a solution, which has not happened. Legal challenges have kept the program alive temporarily for the estimated 700,000 people protected by it.
The 20 Republican petitioners are rebelling against House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been reluctant to tackle this issue as midterm elections are pending.
To be clear, Collins is not breaking with Trump on his immigration goals. The president has expressed sympathy for the Dreamers, while at the same time pushing a tough line on immigration, with an emphasis on hardening U.S. borders.
“President Trump made a commitment to the American people that he would fix our broken immigration system,” Collins said last week. “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.”
“Chain migration” is a term favored by conservatives for what’s officially known as “family reunification” under federal law. It permits green card holders or legal residents of the United States to sponsor members of their family for immigration to the U.S. The president wants to curtail or eliminate the practice.
Collins is up for re-election this year in a pretty solidly Republican seat. Part of his interest in this issue is because his district is home to many dairy farms that depend on immigrant labor.
“Right now, my dairy farmers are saying to Republicans: You’ve got the House, the Senate, the White House, and you’ve got to give us a legal workforce, and I agree with that,” Collins told The Washington Post. He said he supports a conservative bill that would create an agricultural guest worker program.
Collins is opening himself up to criticism from the right, where anti-immigrant sentiment is strong. Some on the left may accuse him of trying to score election year points while hewing to most of Trump’s immigration agenda.
But let’s give the congressman credit for sticking up for his dairy farmer constituents and their employees, rather than marching in lockstep with Speaker Ryan.
Collins told The Post he realizes the House may never get a bill passed. “But then those of us can go home and say we did our best,” he said. “I fought for you and I’m willing to go against leadership to fight for you, and that’s all you can expect out of me.”