Until a few weeks ago, "Queen of the Hill" meant little to anyone. But today, this little-known House rule may be Congress' best shot at improving our border security and resolving issues with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
President Trump called on Congress to pass a permanent legislative solution for DACA enrollees, who were brought to the United States illegally as children — but his March 5 deadline came and went. Seven states have now filed lawsuits asserting that the executive branch established DACA illegally. Other federal lawsuits have been filed to keep the program running. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, has drafted several bills that deal with DACA, but the leadership has so far declined to bring any of them up for debate or a vote.
Last week, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) took an unusual step by filing what's called a "discharge petition" on a resolution that I had proposed. If the House supports the petition — and so far 196 representatives of the 218 needed for a majority do — that will set up votes on four DACA-related bills: the Securing America's Future Act written by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.); the DREAM Act; an immigration bill of Speaker Paul Ryan's choosing; and the USA Act, which I co-wrote with Reps. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) and Will Hurd (D-Texas).
The Queen of the Hill procedure allows for open debate on each of the outlined bills, and bill authors may amend their legislation before the final vote series — but only over the course of one legislative day. The House will have one hour of general debate, and then each bill will be debated for 40 minutes. All the debate time is divided equally among Republicans and Democrats. Finally, the House votes on each bill in the order outlined in the rule. The bill with the most votes and a majority will emerge as Queen of the Hill and move over to the Senate for consideration.
California is home to 29% of DACA recipients. Every member of the California congressional delegation should sign the discharge petition to bring Queen of the Hill to the floor to consider four serious DACA proposals. We may have differing opinions about how to reform the broken U.S. immigration system, but we can't keep burying our heads in the sand.
Immigration policy is the responsibility of Congress, and this may be our last chance for a legislative fix before DACA recipients' lives are upended; if we leave DACA in the courts to languish (or be dismantled) and fail to act in Congress, then program recipients will be left in limbo or, worse, deported to a "home" they never knew.
Discharged bills can be brought to the House floor only on the second and fourth Monday of each month, and only when the House is in session. This gives us only two dates that would allow enough time for a bill to make it through the Senate and onto the president's desk in 2018: June 25 and July 23. Unless the House leaders decide to put a bill on the floor — and they might — this is our last real shot in this Congress to force the debate on DACA.
America has never punished children for the actions of their parents, and we shouldn't start now. These children and young adults know no other country as home. DACA recipients came forward at the government's request, paid their fees (some of them more than once) and passed background checks. They are a part of our workforce, graduates of our high schools, and enrolled in our universities. Many didn't realize they did not hold American citizenship until they applied to that first job or to college. We owe it to them to fulfill our promise of an earned pathway to citizenship.
The president has repeatedly asked Congress to act, and I am confident that after debate and amendment and voting this process will produce a bill that he would sign. As with most successful pieces of legislation, there will be compromises. I believe — and President Trump has been clear — that border security is a necessary component of any successful immigration reform measure.
It's time for Congress to do its job and have the debate that it has avoided for years. Let's hold a vote to settle things once and for all.
Jeff Denham is a Republican Congressman who represents the 10th District of California, which includes all of Stanislaus County and part of San Joaquin County.