Republicans struggled Tuesday to corral support for their compromise immigration bill ahead of a final showdown in the House on Wednesday, with many members already anticipating a defeat and planning a quick pivot to the family separation issue.
GOP leaders floated a plan for a massive increase in low-skilled foreign guest-workers and to require businesses to use E-Verify to check their workers’ status as part of a deal to win reluctant Republicans — but that effort appeared to have petered out by Tuesday evening as it didn’t appear to build support.
Instead, the House was preparing to vote on the original “compromise” bill that was first offered on the floor last week, then pulled when it became clear there wasn’t enough support for it.
The bill would combine President Trump’s demand for border wall funding with a pathway to citizenship for more than 1 million illegal immigrants, including “Dreamers” who are part of the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty program.
It also eliminates the visa lottery and imposes some limits to the chain of family migration — though Dreamers would still be allowed to sponsor the parents who brought them illegally to the U.S., which has emerged as a major sticking point for many conservatives.
The bill has also gotten snared in the ongoing fight over family separations and the Trump administration’s stumbles with its “zero tolerance” policy at the border, with some lawmakers saying it’s time to ditch the broader immigration bill and take up stand-alone legislation to address families.
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GOP leaders weren’t prepared to admit defeat.
“I want to get through the first Wednesday vote,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Tuesday after meeting with his troops. “I want to lean into that vote and do as well as we possibly can on that vote. And then, if that doesn’t succeed, then we’ll cross that bridge.”
He acknowledged that even if the House does act, the bill will be filibustered by Democrats in the Senate.
The compromise bill does include language to deal with the family separation issue. It would prohibit families from being separated for misdemeanor illegal immigration cases, and would inject resources so Homeland Security has the ability to detain more families together.
That’s just one of the ideas that will be available to Congress once it turns its full attention to the family issue.
In the Senate, negotiations are being led by the odd pairing of Sens. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, and Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat.
GOP leaders said if they can come up with a compromise there could be a voice vote this week, before lawmakers head home for a week-long Independence Day vacation.
“That’s what I’d like to see,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
All sides seem to agree that families should be held together. The question is how that should happen.
Republicans — and a plurality of Americans — say that should happen in Homeland Security detention facilities that can accommodate families. Keeping them in custody ensures they will show up for their cases and be deported when the time comes, GOP lawmakers say.
Democrats, under intense pressure from immigrant-rights groups, object to detention. They say families should be released under less restrictive conditions, arguing that detention, even as a family, still traumatizes children.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said he remains skeptical of the need to pass a bill.
“The president created this problem. The quickest way to fix it is administratively. The president can do that,” Mr. Schumer said.
Unsure of Congress and not satisfied with Mr. Trump’s own actions, Democratic attorneys-general from 17 states and the District of Columbia went to court Tuesday to ask a judge to step in and order a permanent end to separations.
They also want to force the government to draw up a clear plan to reunite the 2,047 children still in government custody who were separated from their parents.
The states’ lawsuit joins a series of ongoing cases, including several in California and one in Washington, D.C.
The Justice Department on Tuesday weighed in, begging courts not to intervene with a heavy-handed schedule for reuniting families.
“A hasty injunctive ruling by this court on issues of this level of complexity would be as likely to slow and complicate reunification efforts as to speed them,” government lawyers told the judge in one of the California cases.
The government gave no new timetable for reunifications, but insisted it’s making progress.
Parents and lawyers told the judges that’s not true. The hotline the government set up only works during some hours, parents struggle to use the online system, and despite promises of being able to phone their children, some parents said they’ve been cut off, lawyers said in court filings.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress he’s trying to fix that.
But he said reunification plans depend on Congress changing the law to allow illegal immigrant families to be held longer.
“We are working to get all these kids ready to be placed back with their parents, get that all cleared up,” he said. “If Congress passes a change, or of those parents complete their immigration proceedings, we can then reunify.”