GOP talks on immigration focus on ‘bridge’ for Dreamers

GOP talks on immigration focus on ‘bridge’ for Dreamers
© Greg Nash

Republicans left a meeting Wednesday night in Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders jockey for affection of House conservatives Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump walks back criticism of UK Brexit strategy | McConnell worries US in 'early stages' of trade war | US trade deficit with China hits new record MORE’s (R-Wis.) office without an immigration deal ahead of what is expected to be a tense conference discussion on the topic Thursday.

Lawmakers leaving the meeting said they were encouraged despite their inability to get a deal so far that would stave off a discharge petition launched by party centrists to force a series of votes on immigration measures.

“I don't think these negotiations have been a waste of time at all. They have actually exceeded my expectations, and I think that they're far along enough where the conference meeting tomorrow will be meaningful,” Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloMueller indictments: Congressional candidate asked Russian operatives for info on opponent Lawmakers discuss efforts to boost Latino entrepreneurship On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump suggests China is easing pressure on North Korea because of trade fight | Mulvaney taps top aide as No. 2 at consumer bureau | House Republican to offer bill to curtail Trump's trade powers MORE (R-Fla.) told reporters after the meeting, which included moderates and conservatives. 

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Curbelo said House GOP leaders have a “fairly specific outline” of a possible deal, and will need input from the rest of the conference.

The Florida Republican and his allies are just three signatures away from the 218 necessary to trigger the votes through the discharge petition.

If the discharge petition succeeds, it could lead to passage of legislation that would give "Dreamers" — immigrants who came to the United States illegally as minors — a path to citizenship.

Conservatives oppose that language, arguing Dreamers should not get special privileges over other immigrants.

“The big concern for most conservatives has been the special pathway,” said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page gets closed-door grilling from House Republicans Conservatives moving to impeach Rosenstein soon: report MORE (R-N.C.), head of the conservative Freedom Caucus. 

“We had good discussions on how you take a DACA population and make sure they don't have to face deportations, but also ultimately how do they get a bridge into a legal immigration system,” he added, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DAC) program launched by President Obama. President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE ended that program in September, although it's still active because of court decisions.

Under DACA, Dreamers are allowed to work and live in the United States, but cannot apply for permanent residency without leaving the country.

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) and Curbelo said talks are centered on finding a “bridge” rather than a special pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

“Special path to citizenship is something that only one population can apply for,” said Labrador, a conservative lawmaker. “So anything that just gives a status to one population that nobody else is eligible for, that's a special pathway.”

While most lawmakers agree that Dreames should be allowed to stay in the country, they disagree over how to accomplish this.

Under legislation backed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFormer FBI lawyer Lisa Page gets closed-door grilling from House Republicans 5 takeaways from wild hearing with controversial FBI agent GOP lawmaker asks FBI agent about lying to wife over affair MORE (R-Va.), DACA recipients would get a six-year renewable permit that would not convert to permanent residency. They could then apply for permanent residency — a long shot for most immigrants.

Labrador declined to say whether talks on the “bridge” covered DACA recipients (about 690,000 people), Dreamers (between 1.8 million and 4 million people), or the entire undocumented population of more than 11 million people.