A suspected immigrant holds an infant and a Homeland Security issued bag for personal belongings after being detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas, U.S. (Photographer: Eddie Seal/Bloomberg)

House GOP Plans Wednesday Vote on Compromise Immigration Bill

(Bloomberg) -- As House Republicans prepared to put a compromise immigration bill up for a vote on Wednesday, many members spoke favorably about it even though few of them had seen the final legislative text and House Speaker Paul Ryan downplayed the chances that it would pass.

In a bid to attract more support, lawmakers decided last week to delay the vote and add two provisions to a measure designed to be a compromise between conservative and moderate Republicans.

The new version would include a requirement for employers to electronically check the immigration status of workers, as well as an overhaul of the guest worker program that allows businesses, especially in construction, agriculture and service industries, to hire foreigners.

These additions appear to have won over even some immigration hawks that opposed more lenient proposals, suggesting that the measure has more Republican support than Ryan thought. Still, with a vote scheduled for Wednesday, according to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican leaders won’t have much time to respond to questions and rally support for the bill.

Four conservatives, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Ken Buck of Colorado, Brian Babin of Texas and Ted Yoho of Florida, said adding the E-verify provision would make them consider voting for the bill, especially since it also eliminates some categories of legal immigration and funds the border wall requested by President Donald Trump.

Norman said compared to “staying where we are now," with what he described as open borders, "you have to look at the alternative." He said he could live with a visa program that would set some young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children on the path to citizenship if the bill checks off all the other conservative priorities.

Trump’s Support a Must

Trump himself, however, may have stalled some of the momentum within the House GOP when he tweeted last week that Republicans “should stop wasting their time on Immigration,” until after November’s midterm elections. And several conservatives said they would not commit to anything without the political cover of Trump’s endorsement.

This so-called Republican compromise bill, H.R. 6136, would also change the limit on how long minors can be kept in custody, which the Trump administration cited to explain the policy of separating families that are detained at the border. It would also require families to be held in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security and would authorize $7 billion for new detention facilities.

In the Senate on Monday, talks continued on a narrow immigration measure designed to curtail family separations at the border with Mexico. Yet a small group of Senate Judiciary Committee members who held a first bipartisan meeting late in the day said they don’t anticipate any immediate agreement.

“Nothing is going to happen this week, we don’t think,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and a leader in the effort. The group must take some time to ensure that they are making changes to the immigration system for families so they can “straighten it out so it’s meaningful,” she said.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said he hoped "we can find common ground." He added that if the group could agree on a measure that prevents family separations while also bolstering enforcement of immigration law, “then I think we’ll have a bill that has a chance for passage.”

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said the group needs to do far more than draft a bill barring separations. Democrats have called for retaining the standards of treatment for children that were spelled out in a 1997 consent decree that Republicans want to void. That’s probably the biggest area of disagreement, he said.

The negotiators, Durbin added, also have to come to an understanding of what added resources would be needed if any legislation expands family detentions, because current family facilities can only house about 3,000 people.

“So if we’re going to expand family detention, if that is even under consideration, we have to understand how that would happen, what it would cost, what the alternatives might be,” Durbin said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.