Immigration Deal Eludes House Republicans as Ryan Promises Vote

(Bloomberg) -- House Republicans failed to agree on immigration legislation Thursday as leaders pleaded with them to pursue a GOP-only solution instead of forcing action on bill that would draw votes from Democrats but a veto from President Donald Trump.

Lawmakers left a two hour meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan that they hailed as a productive conversation even though there was no consensus on their next steps.

Ryan is pressing them to accept a bill that would follow the “four pillars” Trump laid out earlier this year, including a path to citizenship for some young immigrants, enhanced border security, eliminating the diversity visa lottery and changing family sponsorship preferences.

“We’re trying to figure out where that sweet spot is,” Ryan told reporters after the GOP meeting.

The issue has been forced by a petition signed by 23 Republicans and almost every House Democrat, which needs support from just three more lawmakers by June 12 to force an immigration vote as soon as June 25, according to Carlos Curbelo, the Florida Republican who started the petition.

Curbelo said more Republicans are willing to sign the so-called discharge petition, but they’re holding off to allow for further GOP-only negotiation. He said he doesn’t know if they’ll join the petition effort this week or next week.

‘Getting Exasperated’

Ryan, for now, appears to have persuaded his own members to delay an effort to force his hand on the floor schedule, but Republicans are still far from agreeing on the most fundamental elements of immigration policy.

“The members who want to see action on this issue were getting exasperated because they didn’t see the opportunity to get something to the floor, we now are presenting people with an opportunity to get something to the floor,” Ryan said.

California Representative Jeff Denham, who helped start the petition, said the four pillars are the base for a deal he and other moderate Republicans would consider accepting from leaders and conservative members. He said the leading proposal is for an eight-year visa for the young, undocumented immigrants known as "dreamers," and a “bridge” for them to become citizens.

Denham said he’s open to discussing all kinds of immigration issues, but the focus right now is on the dreamers and border security. He said e-verify and guest worker options aren’t part of the current negotiation.

“We have a hard deadline of next Tuesday,” Denham said. “I’m willing to work all through the weekend to come up with an agreement on paper."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter pleading with House Republicans to pass legislation providing deportation protections for those eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The chamber also called on lawmakers to reject cuts to legal immigration demanded by the White House and conservatives as part of any deal.

“It is long past time to protect the Dreamers and secure our border," the chamber’s executive vice president, Neil Bradley, wrote in the letter. “We hope the House acts on the bipartisan solutions that exist to address these issues. If there is a desire to address other issues, the chamber urges the House to reject significant cuts to legal immigration and to consider including measures that provide certainty to other groups of individuals who are at risk of losing their legal ability to work in the United States.”

Skilled-Worker Visas

Bradley said the administration’s moves to beef up scrutiny of H-1B visas for skilled workers would have a detrimental impact on the workforce, and that without “congressional action, more than one million individuals would lose their legal ability to work in the United States.”

DACA, begun under President Barack Obama, shields Dreamers from deportation and provides temporary work permits. Trump previously announced he was ending the DACA program but it remains in place as a result of a legal battle.

How these immigrants might attain citizenship has emerged as the biggest difference to bridge within the Republican conference. Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who chairs the homeland security subcommittee, said the leading proposal is to provide a “new path” for all individuals eligible for the DACA program -- not just current recipients -- to stay in the U.S. permanently.

That will be hard for many conservatives to accept, however, especially if they haven’t seen convincing advances in border security first. Scott Perry, a conservative Republican from Pennsylvania who is involved in the negotiations, said he doesn’t necessarily mind being forced into discussion by the discharge petition sponsored by moderates, but his party must be careful not to set bad policy because they’re on deadline.

“There are people in the district that I’m privileged to represent that came here legally,” Perry said. “They are waiting decades and decades, and for me to go to them and say, ‘we’re going to put all these other people who just walked across the border illegally in the line in front of you?’ There’s just no way I’m doing that.”

E-Verify System

Some members also stood up in the meeting to urge broader adoption of the e-verify system that requires employers to check the immigration status of their employees, accompanied with a viable guest worker program to allow people to work in the U.S. legally.

Peter King of New York said there was no rancor in the meeting. “There was consensus that we have to find an agreement,” he said.

Dana Rohrabacher of California said that during the meeting he suggested paying for the wall by selling 50,000 visas for $1 million each per year.

Mark Meadows, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the conservative Freedom Caucus, acknowledged the difficulty of achieving in a few weeks what has bedeviled Congress for years. Still, he said he expects the House to vote on something -- either a GOP bill or the four proposals forced by the discharge petition -- before the end of the month.

“At this point, I’m 100 percent certain there’s no deal,” he said.

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