House GOP Centrists Said to Consider Cuts to Legal Immigration

(Bloomberg) -- A battle among U.S. House Republicans over immigration may be headed toward a compromise that would provide a pathway to citizenship for some young immigrants in exchange for cuts to legal immigration, a lawmaker leading the negotiations said Tuesday.

The plan would eliminate the diversity visa lottery program and limit the kinds of relatives 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 path 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 proposed border wall, although the amount hasn’t been decided, the lawmaker added.

The lawmaker 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.

As House Republicans face headwinds in the November midterm 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 re-election 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 lawmaker 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.

‘Optimistic’

The diversity lottery, which Republicans proposed eliminating, 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.

Such limits on legal immigration, however, aren’t supported by all of the moderate Republicans who started the petition. GOP Representative Jeff Denham of California, who’s facing a competitive race in November, said he hasn’t discussed reducing legal immigration, and he expects the petition to get the last few signatures this week if there is no deal.

Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus and a participant in the negotiations, said he thinks the petition will get enough support but that talks among Republican factions would continue. He said he is "optimistic but not Pollyanna-ish" when it comes to getting a deal in the coming weeks. He doesn’t expect leaders to present a compromise bill in a smaller meeting Wednesday or at a conference-wide meeting Thursday, Meadows said.

Meadows said the pathway to citizenship for ‘dreamers’ is the crux of the dispute because conservatives don’t want give that group an advantage over those who have already applied for permanent legal status without violating the law.

House Freedom Caucus member Steve King of Iowa conceded to reporters that a deal trading reductions in legal immigration for ‘dreamer’ protections probably can get 218 Republican votes to pass the House.

King said he won’t support any compromise that gives even temporary legal status to the young undocumented immigrants, though only 10 to 12 members share his non-compromise views. "This list is short," he said.

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