Dems fret over possible tweaks to bipartisan immigration bill

Dems fret over possible tweaks to bipartisan immigration bill
© Getty Images

Key Democrats are growing increasingly worried that Republicans will make tweaks to the top bipartisan immigration proposal in order to please President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE

The bill in question, the Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act, would grant a special path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers — immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children — and fund extensive border security provisions.

It has, perhaps, the best chance of passing the House out of the four proposals being considered, if rebellious centrist Republicans can successfully force a floor vote on immigration.


But now some Democrats are concerned that Republicans want to add other provisions, like an end to the diversity visa lottery — a provision in Trump's "four pillars" approach.

Tensions over the potential changes came to a head Friday on the House floor, as Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) entered into heated exchanges with Reps. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdDemocrats go big on diversity with new House recruits Texas Democrats plan 7-figure ad buy to turn state blue Republicans face worsening outlook in battle for House MORE (R-Texas) and Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarHouse passes legislation to create Smithsonian Latino museum House panel approves amendment barring DACA deportations Hispanic Caucus requests meeting with private detention center CEOs MORE (D-Calif.), the co-authors of the USA Act.

"[Republicans] came up to me and said, 'Diversity visas are out. There's consensus,' " Gutiérrez, a vocal advocate for immigrant rights, told The Hill.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamCuomo to serve as National Association of Governors chair Biden: I'll have a running mate picked next week The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Angie Craig says we need an equitable distribution plan for an eventual vaccine that reaches all communities; Moderna vaccine enters phase 3 trial in US today MORE (D-N.M.) intervened to cool tempers between Gutiérrez and Aguilar, walking off the House floor with Gutierrez for a private conversation.

"I'm not mad about anything," Gutiérrez said after the huddle. "I am concerned that diversity visas and that family reunification visas may be in play." 

Asked by The Hill whether he was trying to change his bill, Hurd offered no comment. 

Aguilar told The Hill he had proposed no changes to the USA Act.

"We've talked about border [security] and a fix for DACA [the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program]. Those are the two things that we talked about in the USA Act. I'm not making any changes," Aguilar said.

Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Memo: GOP cringes at new Trump race controversy Trump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy Republicans can't exploit the left's climate extremism without a better idea MORE (R-Fla.), one of the leading Republican moderate voices on immigration, said the authors of the USA Act had agreed to "be flexible to prepare the USA Act for signature by the president."

Trump has said he'll only sign an immigration bill that covers his four pillars approach, which would include deportation relief for DACA recipients, a border wall, ending the diversity visa program and an end to so-called chain migration — the system of family-based visas by which American citizens and permanent residents can sponsor some foreign family members for U.S. residency.

"All of our colleagues here, that I know of, are working to make law, not to have messaging bills," Curbelo said.

Republican moderates, led by Curbelo, are three votes short of pushing through a successful discharge petition — a motion to force a vote against the wishes of leadership — that would pit four immigration bills up for a floor vote.

Under what's known as a Queen of the Hill rule, the House would vote on all four bills. Whichever bill secures the most votes past the 50 percent mark would be adopted.

Along with the USA Act, the Queen of the Hill rule would allow a vote on a conservative bill proposed by Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlattePress: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself USCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids MORE (R-Va.), the Dream Act — which has similar citizenship provisions to the USA Act, without funding for border security — and a yet-to-be announced bill of House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Budowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey Democratic super PAC quotes Reagan in anti-Trump ad set to air on Fox News: 'Are you better off?' MORE's (R-Wis.) choosing. 

As the discharge petition has gained steam, Republican leadership has been forced to host a series of meetings in an attempt to find common ground between conservatives and centrists in the party.

After Friday's huddle in Ryan's office, leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and moderates said they hadn't yet reached a deal to avoid the discharge petition, but were inching closer.

And after a similar meeting Thursday, Republicans said they'd reached a consensus to eliminate the diversity visa program.

Under that program, nationals of countries with low immigration to the United States are chosen as applicants for permanent residency through a lottery system. The winners of the lottery are then vetted as any other visa applicant.

The program's been a favorite target of Trump's, but its elimination is a red line for Democrats.

Gutiérrez relayed fears that agreements reached in Republican huddles will seep into bipartisan deals.

"My concern is that [those agreements do] not filter and contaminate Hurd-Aguilar," Gutiérrez said. 

"My wealth of experience in negotiating with Republicans is, once you reach an agreement, there is a tendency of when it goes to the broader Republican Conference to make it further to the right. It usually doesn't improve for the immigrant community," he added.

But perhaps just as worrying for Gutiérrez was the Democratic reaction to potential tweaks.

"My only concern is I haven't heard any pushback on that," added Gutiérrez. "I haven't heard anybody say, 'That's just unacceptable.' "

Scott Wong, Juliegrace Brufke and Mike Lillis contributed.