Centrist House Republicans Said to Offer Legal Immigration Cuts

(Bloomberg) -- Moderate U.S. House Republicans seeking to force a vote on immigration proposals would be willing to accept cuts to legal immigration in exchange for a pathway to citizenship for some young immigrants, one of the members leading the negotiations said Tuesday.

The plan would eliminate the diversity visa lottery program and limit the kinds of family members that citizens can sponsor for residency, according to the lawmaker, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations are private. Those reductions in legal immigration would make room for a pathway to citizenship for the so-called dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, the lawmaker said.

The proposal would also include funds for enhanced border security, part of which could be used for President Donald Trump’s border wall, although the amount hasn’t been decided, the lawmaker said.

As House Republicans face headwinds in the November elections, the party’s most vulnerable members are defying the wishes of Speaker Paul Ryan in a bid to force an immigration debate that has been stalled for months. While Ryan has urged members to focus their campaigns on the tax cuts enacted in December, moderate members say they need to resolve the immigration impasse to reflect their constituents’ wishes.

Twenty-three Republicans and all but one Democrat have signed a petition that would force House leaders to schedule a vote on four different immigration proposals: a bill to allow a path to citizenship for the "dreamers," a bill with strict immigration limits sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a plan of Ryan’s choice, and a bipartisan compromise called the USA Act.

Three More Signatures

In this process, the measure that passes and gets the most votes would move on to the Senate. The petition needs three more signatures to begin the process for House votes on the four proposals.

Ryan has sought to undercut momentum for the petition by negotiating between the ideological extremes of his conference. The leaders of each faction will meet with Republican leaders Wednesday, and all House GOP members plan to meet behind closed doors on Thursday to discuss immigration.

If party members agree to the compromise, the lawmaker said, the plan could get a floor vote on its own, eliminating the need for the petition to force votes on competing immigration proposals. Or it could be the bill that Ryan offers among the four measures getting votes under the petition.

The member said moderate Republicans won’t drop the petition unless they agree on the legislative text of an alternative bill.

Democrats aren’t part of the negotiations on the compromise bill, the lawmaker said. That means House Republicans may have to pass an immigration bill on their own, a challenge that has proven insurmountable thus far. Support from at least nine Democrats would be needed for any legislation to pass the Senate.

‘Good Faith’

Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus and a participant in the negotiations, said Tuesday he thinks the petition will get enough signatures but talks among GOP factions will continue.

“I feel like we are closer today than we have ever been,” said Meadows, a North Carolina Republican. “Moderates are negotiating in good faith.”

The House member who spoke anonymously said White House officials told congressional Republicans that Trump could support a bill that includes both the pathway to citizenship and cuts to legal immigration. Stephen Miller, a senior administration adviser who has sought to limit immigration, helped design the contours of this compromise, the member said.

The diversity lottery provides visas for immigrants from under-represented countries and has been defended by the Congressional Black Caucus.

The changes to family-preference immigration would allow citizens to sponsor their spouses and minor-age children, but not their siblings, the lawmaker said.

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