House Immigration ‘Compromise’ Would Mean Sweeping Changes
Posted June 14, 2018 9:04 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — An immigration bill pitched as a compromise between conservative and moderate Republicans would make sweeping changes to the United States’ immigration system while establishing a special visa program that would give young unauthorized immigrants the chance to become citizens based on factors like employment and education.
The draft bill, circulating among lawmakers on Thursday afternoon and up for a vote next week, closely adheres to President Donald Trump’s vision for an immigration overhaul. In addition to protecting the young immigrants, it provides billions of dollars for a wall on the southwest border while imposing new limits on legal immigration.
The bill would also toughen rules for asylum-seekers. And it would address the separation of children from parents under the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal border crossings by mandating that families be kept together while in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, according to a summary of the measure.
In effect, the measure would offer Democrats and immigration moderates in the Republican Party a difficult choice: accept hard-line changes to much of the immigration system in exchange for protections for young immigrants and what appears to be a modification of the wrenching policy of splitting up families at the border.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, tried Thursday to blame Democrats for the family-separation policy that the Trump administration started — because Democrats have refused to accept the broader changes in immigration policy demanded by the president.
“The separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close, and these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade,” she said.
The proposed bill, the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018, grew out of weeks of negotiations between Republican conservatives and moderates.
“We’re bringing legislation that’s been carefully crafted and negotiated to the floor,” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said Thursday. “We won’t guarantee passage.”
And its passage is far from assured. Within hours of the draft’s release, Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that it would urge lawmakers to vote against the measure, deriding it as “amnesty.”
Immigration rights groups are almost certain to oppose it, as well. And Democrats, who were cut out of negotiations, will most likely oppose it.
“It is nothing more than a cruel codification of President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda that abandons our nation’s heritage as a beacon of hope and opportunity,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader.
In one sense, Ryan has already succeeded, having quashed a rebellion from moderate lawmakers who were attempting to use a parliamentary maneuver known as a discharge petition to force votes this month on immigration.
Had the petition succeeded, the House would have considered — and almost certainly passed — a bipartisan measure that would pair a path to citizenship for the young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, known as Dreamers, with enhanced border security.
But the petition fell two signatures short of the number it needed — and moderates lost much of their leverage.
Ryan called the new immigration measure a “very good compromise” and said he hoped it would pass. But Democrats and other critics of the speaker said that the bill is destined to fail, and accused Ryan of putting it on the floor solely to give political cover to the moderates, many of them vulnerable in this fall’s midterm elections and facing demands from constituents to address the Dreamers’ fate.
Hundreds of thousands Dreamers have been shielded from deportation by an Obama-era initiative known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which Trump moved last year to end.
Under the proposed bill, Dreamers would be able to apply for a six-year renewable legal status, assuming that they meet certain criteria, including having been under 16 when they entered the United States.
The new merit-based visa program would give them an avenue to obtain citizenship — though the program would be open to others beyond Dreamers, a design that could make it less offensive to conservatives loath to approve any kind of “special pathway” to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants. Through the program, Dreamers would be able to obtain green cards, and, in turn, citizenship. The program would include a point system based on qualifications like education level, military service and employment.
The draft bill also includes changes to the legal immigration system. It would eliminate the diversity visa lottery system, which is intended to bring in immigrants from underrepresented countries. It would also curb family-based immigration, eliminating the visa categories for married children of U.S. citizens and siblings of adult citizens.
Such family-based migration is the cornerstone of the existing immigration system, but Trump has been pressing to move toward a system that favors educated professionals and skilled workers.
The bill would beef up border security, providing funds for Trump’s promised wall on the southern border with Mexico, while also including changes intended to strengthen immigration enforcement — important provisions to conservatives and to the president.
In an apparent effort to discourage lawmakers from rescinding funding for the wall in the future, the bill would tie the border-wall money to the issuance of visas under the merit-based program.
Republicans, who said Thursday afternoon that they were digesting the 293-page document, seemed to have mixed views. A major question is whether conservatives, including members of the House Freedom Caucus, will support the legislation.
“It’s going to legalize people who are illegally in America,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who is known for his hard-line views on immigration. He said he would vote against the bill: “That’s amnesty.”
But Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, who considers himself a “center-right” Republican, said that he was encouraged by the draft and that the negotiations that produced it had been unifying for the Republican conference.
“It’s forced all of the different perspectives to come together and talk about what really matters,” MacArthur said.