GOP immigration compromise faces more hurdles in House

GOP immigration compromise faces more hurdles in House
© Greg Nash

The House Republican plan to vote on two immigration proposals next week is missing a key component: the second bill.

For weeks, Republican leaders have been coordinating closed-door meetings in search of a partisan compromise that satisfies both the centrist reformers and the conservative immigration hawks in their restive conference.

But a deal remains elusive, and the negotiators are running out of time to forge an agreement that would ramp up immigration enforcement and provide legal protections to so-called Dreamers — all while conforming to the “four pillars” approach demanded by President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE.

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The stubborn impasse threatens to undermine the GOP’s message — crucial to some Republicans facing tough reelections this year — that they’re serious about shielding Dreamers from deportation by salvaging the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump wants to wind down.

The race for an agreement ahead of next week’s planned votes is just the latest challenge facing Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty MORE (R-Wis.), a lame-duck Speaker whose efforts to keep immigration off the House floor this election year were foiled by the same centrist lawmakers he’s now trying to rally behind a compromise proposal.

All sides of the debate are expressing confidence they’ll get a deal, even as they acknowledge significant differences.

“I think we’re going to nail down some final negotiations,” said Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamCrazy California an outlier? No, we are the canary in the coal mine Polling editor says news outlets should be more cautious calling elections Rep. Valadao officially concedes in California race MORE (R-Calif.), an immigration reformer facing a tough reelection in November. “We have come a long way to working together.”

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Mueller report poses new test for Dems Washington in frenzy over release of Mueller report MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, has warned that there’s plenty of work remaining to reach an agreement. He predicted, however, that the kinks could be ironed out by early next week.

Aside from the evolving compromise bill, Republican leaders also want to vote next week on a hard-line bill proposed by Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling MORE (R-Va.). Both bills are expected to adhere to Trump’s four pillars, and the White House, through senior adviser Stephen Miller, endorsed both approaches Wednesday.

According to a draft of the Republican deal reviewed by The Hill, it would strongly entice Congress to fund a physical wall at the border by withholding permanent residency for DACA recipients in years when lawmakers deny funds for Trump’s cornerstone campaign promise.

This could mean that Dreamers would be stuck in a nonimmigrant status — a temporary, renewable work permit — in years that Congress did not appropriate money for the wall, or if a future president decided to channel those funds elsewhere.

The question of citizenship rights — who should get them, and how — has been another sticking point.

Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure Ex-GOP lawmaker joins marijuana trade group MORE (R-Fla.), one of the leaders of the centrist effort, said negotiators had considered two options to provide Dreamers a path toward legal status, but were increasingly leaning toward one of those options.

“It doesn’t exclude other groups, but all Dreamers who can qualify for the DACA program as it’s delineated today will have the possibility to seek or apply to an immigrant visa, which would permit them to enter in the legal immigration system and eventually, if they so wish, to seek citizenship,” said Curbelo.

According to the draft, that option would create a visa for DACA-eligible Dreamers, as well as for other immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as minors, but do not currently have their own pathway to citizenship, such as the grown children of foreign nationals on temporary work or investor visas.

Upon enactment of the law, the DACA population would be granted a six-year permit to live and work in the United States that could be indefinitely renewed but that would not lead to citizenship or count as permanent residency.

The bill also calls for the cancellation of the diversity visa lottery program and to channel its 55,000 yearly visas to the new program.

Over the first five years of the law, those 55,000 yearly permanent visas would be put aside.

After five years, Dreamers and children of temporary visa recipients would be allowed to start applying for the green cards that had been put away on a merit-based system.

The visas would continue to be granted at 55,000 per year until all DACA-eligible Dreamers had been processed and then the visas would be discontinued, according to the draft.

Curbelo said moderates are trying to maintain legal immigration levels.

“Some visas may be shifted towards employment visas, but our goal is to not cut legal immigration,” he said.

Still, the move to eliminate the diversity visa lottery and reallocate its visas, an issue Republicans unanimously agreed upon last week, is sure to rankle Democrats.

“You can’t rob Peter to pay Paul,” said Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeProgressives threaten to derail major Dem spending proposal Speaker in waiting? Rapid rise of Hakeem Jeffries fuels talk Congress should look into its own taxes and travel, not just Trump's MORE (D-Calif.).

It’s unclear if either the Goodlatte proposal or the moderate alternative will win enough support to pass the House, let alone the Senate.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has warned that the Goodlatte bill, because it cuts even legal levels of immigration, would hurt businesses, likely eroding support from moderate Republicans who are already balking at the bill. And conservatives are widely expected to vote en masse against the compromise bill.

Passing the compromise, said Rep. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloOvernight Energy: Park Service closing Joshua Tree after shutdown damage | Dems deliver trash from parks to White House | Dems offer bills to block offshore drilling | Oil lobby worries about Trump trade fight Ex-GOP Rep. Ryan Costello joins group pushing carbon tax Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch MORE (R-Pa.), is “going to be dependent on whether the Democrats support the compromise.”

“The conservative members on the Republican side … I doubt they’ll vote for the compromise,” he said. “They’re just going to want to vote for Goodlatte.”