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Denham: House Republicans Discussing New 8-Year Visa for Dreamers

California Republican says agreement on full immigration proposal needed by Tuesday to avert discharge petition

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., has been in the middle of immigration negotiations of late. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., has been in the middle of immigration negotiations of late. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republicans have discussed creating a new eight-year visa for so-called Dreamers that would create a bridge to permanent legal status, Rep. Jeff Denham told reporters Thursday.

The California Republican declined to say there was an agreement on the idea but suggested there was broad interest in it.

“I don’t think you can have any agreement until you see it in writing,” he said.

The visa would be made available to a “larger group” than the roughly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children that have work permits through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Denham said.

There would be requirements Dreamers would have to meet to qualify for the visa, like having a job or being enrolled in school or the military, he said.

To create the new visa “there will be some combining of some of the numbers” from other visa categories, Denham said.

Watch: What is a Discharge Petition Anyway?

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Likely targets for what appears to be a plan to reallocate a certain number of existing visas to Dreamers include family and diversity visas that President Donald Trump has long talked about cutting.

“That’s what we’re looking to have in writing. We want to see where those numbers come from and how many Dreamers” would qualify, Denham said.

No other Republicans have confirmed the details of the offer the congressman described.

Denham said the idea of a Dreamer visa was floated by House Freedom Caucus members in a Wednesday afternoon meeting with GOP leaders and roughly a dozen members from various sections of the conference.

“Those of us that were in the meeting accepted what they were offering,” he said.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows initially declined to confirm or deny that his group offered an eight-year Dreamer visa but emphasized there’s no agreement. Later, he clarified that the caucus had made no offers to anyone on immigration.

“There is great discussion. There [are] great paths forward and progress that is being made, but there is no deal,” the North Carolina Republican said.

The proposal was shared with the full GOP conference Thursday, Denham said.

Meadows said he’s waiting to hear what leadership has to say about the conference discussion, which centered around a deal that would touch on the president’s four pillars for an immigration deal.

As Trump described in his State of the Union in January those pillars involve beefing up border security with a physical wall, protecting Dreamers brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, reducing family-sponsored visas and ending the diversity visa lottery program.

Denham said the conference discussion ventured into other topics like guest workers and requiring employers to use the E-verify system but there seemed to be a consensus that those issues would have to be addressed in later legislation.

The full immigration proposal Republicans are discussing needs to be put in writing and whipped to ensure it has the support to pass the House by Tuesday for moderate Republicans to agree not to move forward with their discharge petition, Denham said.

“And that we have a firm floor time already confirmed” for a vote on the proposal, he added.

The discharge petition — which is for what is called a queen of the hill rule that would set up votes on four immigration bills that lack unified GOP support — currently has 215 signatures, just three short of what’s needed.

House rules require seven legislative days for a discharge petition to ripen once it gets to 218 signatures, after which any signatory can call it up as a privileged resolution on the second or fourth Monday of the month.The remaining signatures would need to be on the discharge petition by June 12 for a vote to occur on June 25.

“We have a firm deadline of Tuesday. Tuesday we will hit 218” if no agreement is reached, Denham said. “We have well over 218 people ready to sign.”

Meadows said Tuesday is an “artificial deadline,” although he’s hopeful a deal can be reached by then.

“The only deadline that’s critical right now is June 25,” he said.

There are procedural maneuvers that could be deployed to turn off the discharge petition once it has 218 signatures, but a majority of House members would have to be willing to do that.

One Republican who is thinking about signing the discharge petition is Florida Rep. Dennis Ross. He said the only thing that would stop him from doing so is a scheduled vote on a bill that includes a guest worker program for the agricultural, construction and service industries.

When Ross brought up the guest worker issue during the GOP conference, Speaker Paul D. Ryan said “We have to do this first. And then we’ll do that in the future,” according to Ross.

“And I said with all due respect, speaker, I’ve been here eight years and the future never comes,” he said.

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