11 people who will shape the immigration debate


With two weeks to go before government funding expires, the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is at the forefront of the fight to prevent another shutdown.

The White House said Wednesday it will issue a framework next week laying out the four pillars demanded by President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE, combining DACA protections with tougher border security and efforts to reduce family migration and eliminate the diversity visa lottery.

Here are 11 people who will shape that debate:

John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, White House chief of staff

Kelly, Trump’s former secretary of Homeland Security, has emerged in recent weeks as perhaps the most dominant White House voice guiding the tough-enforcement approach to immigration that fueled Trump’s campaign. 

His influence has been hailed by conservatives on Capitol Hill, who are wary that Trump’s impulsive negotiating style — and his alacrity for cutting deals regardless of the details — would yield a DACA agreement lending too many concessions to the Democrats. Kelly was seen as instrumental in ensuring that conservative voices have been at the table throughout the talks, particularly at a testy White House meeting in which Trump rejected a bipartisan deal negotiated by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Simone wins bronze with altered beam routine The job of shielding journalists is not finished The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions MORE (R-S.C.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinMcConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal Congress should butt out of Supreme Court's business Inmates grapple with uncertainty over Biden prison plan MORE (D-Ill.).


“The president has said from the beginning this has got to be bipartisan, and unless it involves the House as well as the Senate, it’s going to go down,” Kelly said last week. 

Immigration reformers have noticed, and there seems to be a growing sense among Democrats that Kelly is steering Trump away from any DACA deal that isn’t heavy on enforcement.

“Kelly’s leaning fully to the right and is the enforcer on this issue,” said Rep. Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoYellen tries to tamp down Democrats fury over evictions ban VA's decision on transgender veterans is a step in the right direction House sends anti-Asian hate bill to Biden's desk MORE (D-Calif.).

Stephen Miller, senior White House aide

The senior White House aide has a reputation for undermining bipartisan immigration negotiations.

His influence will continue to anger pro-immigrant negotiators, many of whom have pointed to Miller as a toxic influence on the talks.

A White House meeting earlier this month to discuss the Graham-Durbin proposal, which famously ended with Trump allegedly calling Haiti, El Salvador and African nations "shithole countries," was dubbed by some Democrats as the “Stephen Miller ambush.”

Miller has taken a lead role in crafting the White House’s positions on immigration, much to the chagrin of his detractors.

In a press release criticizing a White House document on DACA earlier this month, Durbin's office included the following instructions for reporters:

“If you click on ‘properties’ in the ‘WH immigration priorities’ document, you will see it was created on October 8th, 2017.

“You can also see its author.”

The document's author was Miller.

Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden MORE (R-Va.)

The outgoing chairman of the House Judiciary Committee introduced his own immigration proposal, along with Reps. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulGOP report on COVID-19 origins homes in on lab leak theory Afghan evacuees to be housed at Virginia base Passport backlog threatens to upend travel plans for millions of Americans MORE (R-Texas), Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySchumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up GOP group launches million ad campaign pressing Kelly on filibuster Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (R-Ariz.), in December.

The powerful group of committee chairs secured a promise from House leadership to whip their bill and bring it to the floor if and when it has secured enough votes to pass the chamber.

The Goodlatte bill — received with dismay by Democrats and some Republicans — would enact strict enforcement measures, a steep reduction in legal immigration and changes to agricultural guest worker programs in exchange for renewable three-year work permits exclusively for recipients of DACA.

Goodlatte has been present at every turn in the immigration debate, as part of House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTo cut poverty and solve the labor shortage, enhance the Earned Income Tax Credit Wisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans RealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump MORE's (R-Wis.) failed immigration task force, as a regular guest at White House meetings on the issue and now as the main sponsor of the bill favored by conservatives.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsMeadows says Trump World looking to 'move forward in a real way' Trump takes two punches from GOP Watchdog urges Justice to probe Trump, Meadows for attempting to 'weaponize' DOJ MORE (R-N.C.) 

The head of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, Meadows has been a constant thorn in Ryan’s side, showing both the capacity and the willingness to make or break legislation championed by his own leadership. The DACA debate has proven no different, as Meadows is already insisting on the tough-enforcement approach favored by immigration hawks — and using the leverage of the Freedom Caucus to threaten the more dovish bills pushed by GOP moderates.

Bolstering his position, Meadows is in frequent contact with top White House officials, including Trump, and acts as an unofficial spokesman of sorts for the administration in guiding the House immigration debate — a role Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Biden administration expands Afghan refugee program | Culture war comes for female draft registration | US launches third Somalia strike in recent weeks Up next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Chuck Todd is dead wrong: Liberal bias defines modern journalism MORE (R-Ark.) has adopted in the upper chamber. 

During the shutdown, Meadows repeatedly bashed the Graham–Durbin framework as too soft on enforcement while trumpeting Trump’s tougher enforcement demands.

“I think he will stand fast with the principles that he’s long espoused,” Meadows said. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet MORE (R-Texas)

Cornyn has been engaged in the DACA discussions for weeks, huddling secretly with the deputy leaders of each chamber — Durbin in the Senate and Reps. Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyPress: Inmates have taken over the asylum 58 percent say Jan. 6 House committee is biased: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (R-Calif.) and Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerYellen tries to tamp down Democrats fury over evictions ban House bundling is bad for deliberation CBC presses Biden to extend eviction moratorium MORE (D-Md.) in the House — in search of an elusive deal. Since the government reopened, he’s been thrust to the center of the debate, taking the lead, along with Durbin, in talks to forge a bipartisan agreement before the Feb. 8 deadline.

It’s a position both prestigious and precarious for Cornyn, who holds a distinctive place in the immigration debate. As the second-ranking Senate Republican, Cornyn will be charged with promoting the enforcement-heavy approach championed by both the White House and the party’s conservative base — a strategy focused heavily on fulfilling Trump’s promise to build “a big, beautiful” border wall. But as the senior senator from Hispanic-heavy Texas, he’ll also face pressure to secure a DACA deal that recognizes local opposition to an imposing physical barrier on the border, where much of the land is privately owned. 

For Cornyn, walking that line will require some deft maneuvering between the wishes of the state he represents and the party he serves. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

Graham's natural role is as the bridge between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, but his support for the government shutdown could hurt his credit with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Florida becomes epicenter of COVID-19 surge | NYC to require vaccination for indoor activities | Biden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates McConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal Top House Democrat says party would lose elections if they were held today: report MORE (R-Ky.).

Graham is close to Trump, and, if his accounting of “shithole Friday” is to be believed, the South Carolina senator isn’t afraid to talk back to the president. 

Still, Graham may not be in Trump's good graces. He went after Miller Sunday, saying, “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we're going nowhere.”

That earned him a rebuke from the White House.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

After the government shutdown fracas, activists and progressives are furious at Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck Schumer'The Squad' celebrates Biden eviction moratorium Overnight Health Care: Florida becomes epicenter of COVID-19 surge | NYC to require vaccination for indoor activities | Biden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates National Organization for Women calls for Cuomo resignation MORE (D-N.Y.). It’s up to Durbin, the Senate Democrats' lead voice on immigration, to mend the fences between the party's left and Senate leadership.

He'll have to repair those relationships while keeping the shutdown coalition united enough to vote on an immigration proposal.

Durbin will also take heat from the left for White House demands added to any final bill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

As the Senate licks its wounds from the shutdown, House leadership is pushing a conservative immigration bill proposed by Goodlatte.

Ryan, who’s successfully stayed out of the limelight in the immigration debate, will be pulled in different directions. He’s interested in showing he can get 218 Republican votes on the most divisive of issues, but passage of a hard-line bill could make things difficult for moderates in his conference come November.

House conservatives have made clear they’ll hold Ryan to the "Hastert Rule," a promise he made not to bring any immigration bill to the floor unless it has the support of at least half the Republican conference.

That puts Ryan in an uncomfortable position, as the only proposal likely to meet that standard is the Goodlatte bill, which is also unlikely to get the 60 votes necessary in the Senate to break a filibuster.

John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi MORE (R-Ohio) faced a similar quandary as Ryan's predecessor, and it was one of the factors that eventually drove him to retirement.

Rep. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew Mexico launching vaccine sweepstakes with M in prizes The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Biden vows to get 'more aggressive' on lifestyle benefits of vaccines MORE (D-N.M.)

Lujan Grisham, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), is the face of the "Tri-Caucus" — the CHC, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus — in immigration negotiations.

The bloc has so far been successful in staying united and leveraging nearly half the House Democratic votes, especially as all three minority caucuses have a vested interest in the immigration debate.

Lujan Grisham will lead the fight against Goodlatte’s bill — she started on that path Tuesday, dubbing it the “Mass Deportation Act.”

House Democratic leadership has so far looked to the CHC for approval on its immigration policy, and there's no sign that will change.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.)

Gutiérrez has emerged over the years as the face of the Democrats’ efforts to protect immigrants, documented and undocumented, living in the United States — a role he’s relished in the current fight over DACA. He was among the most vocal critics of the decision by Senate Democrats to reopen the government on Monday before securing an immigration deal — a “cave” to the GOP, he charged. And he’s hammered all Republican efforts to escalate deportations and reduce legal immigration as a condition of protecting Dreamers.

Still, Gutiérrez has also shown a new openness to granting the Republicans certain enforcement measures to win a deal. Last week, he made waves when he offered to help build the border wall — an idea he loathes — in return for DACA protections. The shift infuriated some members of his party, who accused him of giving away the store before a deal was secure. But Gutiérrez has held his ground, saying the only way to a DACA agreement is through bipartisan compromise.

“There’s going to be a price to pay for [the Dreamers],” he said. “Anybody who does not understand that does not understand fundamentally how we’re going to get them free.”

Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdFirst Democrat jumps into key Texas House race to challenge Gonzales Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel MORE (R-Texas)

In September, after Congress’s top Democrats agreed with Trump to couple DACA protections with tougher border security, the leaders of the CHC went shopping for a Republican to help draft such a package. They found Hurd, a GOP centrist who faces a tough reelection and represents a district boasting more miles of the U.S.-Mexico border than any other House lawmaker.

Hurd teamed up with Rep. Peter Aguilar (D-Calif.) to produce a bill providing a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers “while achieving operational control of the border,” in Hurd’s words. 

The package does nothing to address two of the provisions demanded by the White House — family migration and diversity visas — and GOP leaders have shown little interest in the proposal. But that may change as the debate heats up and party leaders, eying the midterms, seek ways to promote Hurd’s name on the national stage.