By ALAN FRAM and LISA MASCARO
WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republicans labored to strike an immigration accord Tuesday, the day restive moderates have said they’d move to force future votes on the divisive issue if no compromise is reached. Aides said any deal would likely include provisions changing how immigrant children are separated from their families at the border.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., planned to meet with centrist and conservative GOP leaders in hopes of defusing an election-year civil war that leaders worry will alienate right-leaning voters. For weeks, the two factions have hunted ways to provide a route to citizenship for immigrants brought illegally as children to the U.S. and bolster border security, but have failed to find middle ground.
Moderates led by Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida and California’s Jeff Denham have said that without an agreement, they would on Tuesday get the 218 signatures – a House majority – needed on a petition that would trigger votes later this month on four immigration bills. They are three names short but have said they have enough supporters to succeed.
House GOP leaders have tried to derail that rarely used process, asserting those votes would probably produce a liberal-leaning bill backed by Democrats and just a smattering of Republicans. They’ve been trying to craft a right-leaning measure, but the party has long flailed to find compromise between centrists with Hispanic and moderate-minded constituents and conservatives whose voters back President Donald Trump’s hard-line views.
Any deal is likely to include much if not all of the $25 billion Trump wants to build his proposed wall with Mexico and other security steps. But there have been disagreements over details, such as conservative plans to make it easier to deport some immigrants here legally.
Trump’s recent clampdown on people entering the U.S. illegally has resulted in hundreds of children being separated from their families and a public relations black eye for the administration.
No law requires those children to be taken from their parents. A two-decade old court settlement requires those who are separated to be released quickly to relatives or qualified programs. Republicans are seeking language to make it easier to keep the families together longer, said several Republicans.
Besides trying to cut a deal on a bill, Ryan and other GOP leaders have been trying to persuade moderate Republicans to not sign the petition. Two Republican aides said that as part of that, party leaders have promised votes later this year on a bill dealing with migrant agriculture workers and requirements that employers use a government online system to verify workers’ citizenship.
The Republicans spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private talks.
Under House procedures, if the moderates’ petition reaches 218 signatures on Tuesday, the immigration votes could occur as soon as June 25. Otherwise, the votes would have to wait until July.
Trump last year terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, though federal court orders have kept the program functioning for now. Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants have benefited from DACA or could qualify for it, and moderates want legislation that would give these so-called Dreamers a way to become legal residents and ultimately citizenship.
Conservatives have derided that step as amnesty for lawbreakers and have resisted providing a special pathway to protect them.
In recent days, talks have focused on proposals that give the Dreamers a way to gain legal status, perhaps making them eligible for visas now distributed under existing programs. Trump has proposed limiting the relatives that immigrants can bring to the U.S. and ending a lottery that provides visas to people from countries with low immigration rates, which could free up some visas.
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