Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.
WASHINGTON — Three Texas Democrats are nearly all that stand in the way of the U.S. House taking up a series of immigration bills on the chamber floor.
U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Filemon Vela of Brownsville and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen are withholding their support for a "discharge petition" that would bypass the committee process and force Congress to address the legal status of "Dreamers" — young undocumented residents who came to the country as minors and have been granted a reprieve from deportation and a two-year work permit under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
The Texans' concern is that a discussion of possible immigration measures on the House floor might lead to funding for a border wall, The Washington Post reported. All three men represent border districts.
"Representatives Vela, Gonzalez and I are saying 'no' to signing the petition," Cuellar said in a statement. "As I’ve said in the past, I cannot support a border wall which is a 14th-Century solution to a 21st-Century problem. There are better ways at finding solutions to DACA, and I will continue to work in a bipartisan way in Congress to properly address these issues."
A group of House Republicans, spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes, has since earlier this month been attempting to defy their chamber's leadership and force the House to deal with the current stalemate over the legal status of Dreamers. So far, they've gotten 23 Republicans and 190 Democrats to sign onto the discharge petition — five short of the majority of members needed to bring the discussion to the House floor.
DACA has benefited about 800,000 recipients, including about 120,000 Texans, since its inception in 2012, according to government statistics — people who are now living in limbo after President Donald Trump announced in September he would end the program.
DACA's fate is currently tied up in the federal judicial system. Separate courts have ruled the Trump administration must continue receiving both DACA renewals and new applications, but the administration has vowed to challenge those rulings and has said the issue is up to Congress to fix.
While Cuellar, Vela and Gonzalez say they're wary of the possibility of the House voting to fund a border wall, some argue it would be worse to have no debate at all.
Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said the point of the discharge petition is to take the first step toward the House finally addressing the issue.
“I think the last thing that members should be doing, Democrats or Republicans, is stopping short of a legislative debate. We’re long overdue in the House,” he said. “I don’t want to question the congressmen’s motives or their representation of their constituents — that’s what they’re elected to do. But we do think that the process should move forward.”
It is possible that Hurd and his cohort will continue to accrue more Republican signatures, meaning the support of the three Texas Democrats may not be needed.