Immigration Deal Taking Shape in House With Deadline Approaching

(Bloomberg) -- A small group of House Republicans emerged Friday from yet another closed-door meeting with the contours of an agreement for a GOP immigration bill that still left crucial policy details unresolved.

The biggest hang-up remained what to do with people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, known as Dreamers.

Conservatives are resisting allowing a path toward citizenship that would give them preferential treatment over those who already are on track for legal status through existing legal avenues. Moderate Republicans, some of whom are facing strong Democratic challengers in the November election, are willing to compromise on almost all other aspects of immigration in exchange for a special pathway for Dreamers.

The impasse makes it increasingly likely that the moderates will use a so-called discharge petition, signed by 23 Republicans and almost every House Democrat, to force a vote on four versions of immigration legislation. That likely would result in a bill closer to a compromise with Democrats, a blow to House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin who is pushing for a proposal crafted solely among GOP lawmakers. Backers of the petition expect it to gain enough support by June 12 to begin the process for floor votes as soon as June 25.

“The discharge petition is fundamental to this process, so I think it should proceed,” said Representative Carlos Curbelo, the Florida Republican who introduced the petition.

One of the proposals that emerged this week would include a “new merit-based green card” that would be available to different kinds of young immigrants, including the Dreamer population, according to Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican who is chairman of the Republican Study Committee in the House. He said there is still some concern among his members that this program could still be interpreted as a “special pathway” to citizenship, which would make it hard to sell to conservatives.

Republican Representative Jeff Denham of California, who also is leading the petition drive, expressed frustration with the expanding scope of negotiations, which began with resolving the legal status of Dreamers along with enhanced border security and then grew to include changes to legal immigration requested by the White House. Now conservatives are incorporating other issues, including how immigrants can seek asylum.

Whatever the outcome of the negotiations among House Republicans, there is no assurance that the legislation would be taken up in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been reluctant to take up contentious issues with the approach of the November elections that will decide control of Congress.

The biggest factor is President Donald Trump. He’s demanded that any immigration legislation include funding to begin building a wall on the border with Mexico and restrictions on legal immigration that have been rejected by Democrats. The president hasn’t weighed in and Ryan has said he doesn’t want to pass any bill that Trump won’t sign.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.