US immigration

Republican Party gets closer to solving immigration battle as Trump ‘backs compromise legislation’

Paul Ryan, the House speaker, spoke of the president’s support as Republicans tried to forge a bill that would appeal to both moderates and conservatives

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 2:06am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 4:51am

A standoff between House Republican leaders over immigration may finally come to an end after US President Donald Trump signalled support for compromise legislation, House Speaker Paul Ryan told Republican lawmakers on Wednesday.

Details of the measure remained in negotiation between conservative and moderate Republicans, and whatever emerges faces an uphill climb.

The president’s backing would bolster the chances that the package could pass the House over what would likely be solid Democratic opposition, but enough Republicans could still defect to sink it.

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Ryan addressed his colleagues in a closed-door session a day after planning two votes next week on a pair of competing Republican immigration measures – one by conservatives and the other a still-evolving plan that leaders hope will appeal to both ends of the party’s spectrum.

Ryan said that he spoke to Trump on Tuesday and that “the president seemed very supportive” of the compromise bill that was being drafted, Representative Chris Collins of New York, told reporters.

The bills would represent the Republicans’ bid to deal with Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the US illegally as children. Trump last year terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, which has temporarily shielded hundreds of thousands of them from deportation. Federal courts have kept the programme functioning for now.

The conservative bill would offer limited opportunities for Dreamers to stay in the country legally and include tough border security measures, but it is widely expected to be defeated by a combination of Democrats and moderate Republicans.

An alternative that leaders are still developing would offer those immigrants a potential pathway to citizenship and address Trump’s demands to limit legal immigration, but its fate is uncertain.

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Ryan told reporters the two bills would give Republicans “an actual chance at making law and solving this problem”. He also acknowledged the political pressure Republicans face to show their positions on the issue, saying that the process would allow “the votes that everybody is looking for”.

With his planned votes, Ryan effectively blocked unhappy moderates who had been trying to force votes on several immigration bills. Those included two bills, opposed by Republican leaders, that would have provided a clear pathway to citizenship.

In a seldom-used process, the moderates had gathered 216 signatures for a petition that would have forced those votes. But that fell short of the 218 – a House majority – needed to succeed, after leaders pressed some centrist Republicans not to sign.

In the end, the centrists accumulated the names of all 193 House Democrats and 23 Republicans.

Republican leaders feared if the moderates’ petition worked, it would have embarrassed the party by passing a bill that conservatives decried as amnesty for the young immigrants.

With a truce between the factions, House Republicans were bargaining among themselves to complete the details of the compromise measure.

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Late on Tuesday, a Ryan spokeswoman announced the two votes after a bargaining session with lawmakers from the party’s conservative and moderate factions ended without agreement on a single package.

Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida, a leader of the Republican moderates’ petition drive, credited his group with pressing the issue.

“Our goal has always been to force the House to debate and consider meaningful immigration reform, and today we’re one step closer,” Curbelo said.

Conservatives were also pleased, certain that neither bill would necessarily win enough votes to pass but confident that the outcome would show the political strength of their preferred approach.

One Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private talks, said the compromise would likely be based on a proposal by moderates that would grant Dreamers a chance for citizenship but also provide the US$25 billion Trump wants for his border wall with Mexico.

It would also hew closely to Trump’s ideas for ending the diversity visa and impose curbs on legal immigration for some immigrant family members, changes that conservatives want.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, criticised the Republican approach.

“If Republicans plan to use Dreamers as a way to advance @realDonaldTrump’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant agenda, they will get a fight from House Democrats,” Pelosi said in a tweet.

Senate efforts to pass immigration legislation failed earlier this year.