Chants of "USA. USA. USA" echoed through the House chamber upon passage of the bill. The measure passed 237-187 largely along party lines in the Democratic-controlled House, but the measure is not expected to go anywhere in a Senate where Republicans hold the majority.
Republicans have made clear they will only support such expansive protections for those known as "Dreamers," undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, if billions of dollars in border security and other changes to the nation's immigration system are also part of the legislation.
But the vote allows Democrats to stake their claim in the immigration debate just as the 2020 campaign season gets into full swing. And it gives some hope to "Dreamers" that their decades-long fight for permanent legal protections may one day become reality.
On Tuesday, she was able to push the legislation through as House speaker.
The bill is about "honoring the respect for family that is the heart of our faith and the heart of who we are as Americans," Pelosi, D-Calif., said before the vote. "We have the opportunity to be part of history, to be on the right side of history, but more importantly on the right side of the future by voting and recognizing the value of dreamers to that future."
Many Republicans voted against the bill, not just because they said the bill does nothing to address the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border but also because it's unfair to those who have patiently waited in line for legal status.
"This is another green light to those who want to come here seeking freedom from the place they currently are, which I sympathize with. I understand," said Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. "But either we have a way to get into our country legally or we don't."
The idea of protecting the group has been floating through Congress since 2001, when Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, first introduced the DREAM Act. Over the years, various versions have been introduced in Congress, and one passed the House in 2010 under Pelosi's leadership, but it didn't reach the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate.
President Barack Obama set up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2014 to protect immigrants brought to the U.S. as children after Congress was unable to agree on a grand immigration deal.
The bill passed on Tuesday is one of the most expansive versions yet, protecting a large group of "Dreamers," as well as other undocumented immigrants who have been the target of the Trump administration. That includes protections for:
An additional 1.5 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children but did not qualify or apply for DACA, according to an estimate compiled by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.
Hundreds of Liberians who have been allowed to live and work in the U.S. under a version of TPS known as Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).
The bill would grant conditional permanent residence to all "Dreamers" for a period of 10 years. During that time, they must either graduate from college, serve two years in the military or work nearly full time. They must pass a background check to ensure they have not committed any serious crimes. If they complete all that, they can then apply for legal permanent residence (known as a green card), and then five years later apply to become a U.S. citizen.
For TPS and DED recipients, many who have already lived in the country for two decades, the bill would immediately allow them to apply for legal permanent residence.
Immigration activists applauded the House's action.
"We showed the country that it is possible to pass legislation that protects people without hurting" others, said Greisa Martinez, a "Dreamer" and deputy executive director of United We Dream, an immigration advocacy group.