WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen on Wednesday signed a petition to force the House to vote on a series of immigration bills, breaking with House Speaker Paul Ryan on how to resolve the uncertain status of immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
The Republican from Minnesota's Third Congressional District joined a growing list of his fellow House Republicans in signing what's known as a discharge petition, which would circumvent GOP leadership to compel floor debates on a package of immigration proposals. In all, 21 GOP lawmakers so far have joined Democrats in trying to force a vote on legislation that would protect the immigrants, commonly known as Dreamers, who had been eligible for renewable reprieves from deportation and eligible for work permits under the Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) program.
"President Donald Trump and our leadership have promised action on the DACA issue for a long period of time, and they haven't produced any results," Paulsen told the Star Tribune. "And I just feel it's time to take action and make sure that we can have votes on bipartisan bills."
The move came days after the conservative House Freedom Caucus joined Democrats to sink the farm bill after trying to negotiate an immigration deal to their liking. The fate of DACA has weighed over Congress since Trump moved to end the program last fall, prompting Republican House members from Florida, Texas and California to gather signatures from their ranks to bypass GOP leadership.
If all 193 House Democrats sign onto the discharge positions, then supporters would need just four more Republicans to sign on in order to force the votes.
"You've got groups holding other bills hostage, like the farm bill and other things, which is kind of ridiculous," said Paulsen, who voted for the farm bill Friday. "So I think that's the frustration that some of us have — that we've got to make sure the place is functional and working."
He added: "This should not be delayed and pushed out until later in the year or the next year or the year after that."
Paulsen faces a competitive re-election campaign this year in his suburban Hennepin County district, which went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Immigration is the latest issue on which he's broken from the traditional party line. He's also supported several gun control bills in recent months, despite a long history of supporting gun rights, voting in line with the National Rifle Association and accepting political contributions from the group.
The campaign of his DFL opponent, Dean Phillips, pointed to Paulsen's votes in recent years to make DACA enrollees subject to deportation.
"Trying to score political points after leaving so many young Dreamers in limbo is heartless — but unfortunately it is to be expected of a career politician," Phillips said in a statement.
"We find Rep. Paulsen's statement disingenuous at best," said a statement from Jena Martin, co-chair of Indivisible MN03, a group in Minnesota's Third Congressional District that describes itself as a "progressive grassroots network ... to resist the Trump Agenda." The organization has endorsed Phillips. "Where was the representative when we invited him to rallies on this DACA issue outside his office in February?"
Paulsen maintained that he's always supported immigration reform and granting certainty to DACA enrollees. Paulsen sponsored legislation last year to give DACA recipients five years of legal protection when they find a job or enroll in college or the military, in order to give them time to seek citizenship.