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GOP Seeks Changes to Immigration Deal They Crafted

Compromise would help Dreamers, fund border wall, curb family-based visa programs

People protest outside the Capitol on Jan. 21 to call for the passage of the so-called DREAM Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
People protest outside the Capitol on Jan. 21 to call for the passage of the so-called DREAM Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A compromise immigration deal brokered by House Republicans this week would offer so-called Dreamers a path to citizenship, provide nearly $25 billion for President Donald Trump’s border wall and end family-based visa programs for certain relatives of U.S. citizens, according to a discussion draft of legislation circulated among lawmakers Thursday.

The discussion draft, provided to Roll Call by a staffer with knowledge of the negotiations, would create a new merit-based visa that Dreamers and other young immigrants could obtain starting six years after the bill is enacted. The visa would be available to Dreamers enrolled in the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, as well as those who are eligible but never signed up.

GOP leaders say the bill — which is designed to appeal to moderates within the party — is likely to hit the House floor next week, along with a separate immigration measure favored by the conference’s conservative members. It’s unclear whether either bill can garner enough Republican support for passage; most Democrats are expected to oppose both.

“This bill fails to provide a permanent legislative fix to protect our Dreamers,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a news release. “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.”

As text of the draft bill began to leak Thursday afternoon, some of the Republicans who helped craft it were already naming which provisions they’d like to see changed.

“I think there will be some more tweaks to it — or we will have some requests on some changes,” said California Rep. Jeff Denham, one of the moderate Republicans leading the negotiations. “But the bottom line is it protects 1.8 million Dreamers.”

Denham said he’s seeking changes to “technical language” in the Dreamer provisions as well as ones dealing with immigration enforcement.

Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, another moderate Republican involved in the negotiations, said he wants to see the bill go further in ensuring children can stay with their parents when families are detained at the border.

Conservatives are also seeking changes to the draft. Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said the interior enforcement aspect of the bill is trending toward what conservatives have asked for “but I don’t think it’s arrived quite yet.”

The North Carolina Republican and Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry, a member of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, said they were concerned about whether the undocumented parents of Dreamers could eventually gain legal status once their children become citizens.

“The parents, making them legal and giving them amnesty, that’s a problem,” Perry said.

Some moderate Republicans, such as New York Reps. Chris Collins and John J. Faso, seemed initially pleased with the draft. Collins said he expects he will vote for both the compromise bill and the conservative measure, which was authored by Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia. Faso said he needed to read the compromise but that “on the face of it” he was encouraged.

“It solves the border security issues, which are important to many of us and are necessary in order to get the president to sign it, and it solves the DACA problem,” Faso said.

‘Dreamers’ process

For the most part, the draft bill addresses the “four pillars” that Trump has outlined as the requirements for a deal: a permanent solution for Dreamers; cuts to legal immigration; a massive investment in border security; and the end of the diversity visa lottery program.

The draft would do away with the diversity visa, which grants 55,000 visas per year to individuals from countries with historically low levels of U.S. migration. It would reallocate those visas as well as 88,400 others currently set aside for the married children and adult siblings of U.S. citizens in order to create a new visa program for Dreamers. Other reallocated visas would be made available to foreign workers seeking U.S.-based employment.

Dreamers would have the option of applying for a visa after six years but only if the border wall funds are still available and have not been reappropriated or rescinded by another Congress. The visas would be awarded on a points system that considers education level, English proficiency, military service and employment status, among other conditions.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer blasted the draft’s Dreamer provisions, saying the proposal would create “an onerous system under which many Dreamers may never be able to earn the right to stay in the only country they’ve ever called home.”

Asylum overhaul

The draft bill includes numerous provisions that would make it easier for the Homeland Security Department to indefinitely detain and quickly deport undocumented immigrants, including Central Americans who, unlike Mexicans, cannot be deported under current law until they’ve appeared before an immigration judge.

Hundreds of thousands of Central Americans have crossed the border in recent years, including thousands of women and children seeking asylum from crime and poverty. The Trump administration has insisted that Congress close legal “loopholes” in the asylum system that the president says incentivize further illegal immigration.

The bill would make it harder for asylum-seekers to make their case by raising the bar for “credible fear,” the initial threshold an asylum-seeker must meet if their claim is to proceed. The new standard would require border agents to find a credible fear claim to be “more probable than not.” The provisions would bolster an effort by the Justice Department, announced Monday, to make it harder for domestic violence victims to receive asylum.

The draft also contains provisions addressing the issue of undocumented children who are separated from their parents at the border. DHS announced last month that it would begin referring more border-crossing adults for criminal prosecution, meaning they would be separated from their children. Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Thursday he was uncomfortable with the policy, which immigration advocates and Democrats have condemned as inhumane and possibly illegal.

The bill would require that families not be separated while in DHS custody. It’s possible that they could still be separated once the adult is transferred to DOJ for criminal prosecution. The draft legislation would also allow for the indefinite detention of immigrants with criminal records who have been issued deportation orders.

Democrats slammed the provisions. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued the draft bill seeks to force lawmakers to make a “Sophie’s choice” between helping different classes of immigrant children.

“The United States should not have to choose between keeping nursing babies with their mothers and ensuring minors aren’t incarcerated for months on end,” she said in a news release.

Punishing ‘sanctuaries’

The draft bill contains provisions aimed at punishing so-called immigrant sanctuaries — cities, counties or states that have policies or statutes barring local police from fully cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Republicans have in the past sought to pass bills stripping certain law enforcement grants from sanctuary jurisdictions, but they were never signed into law.

One of the sanctuary provisions would clarify Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s authority to ask local law enforcement to detain an undocumented immigrant being held in their custody — known as a detainer — while another would provide for compensation for law enforcement agencies that are sued for complying with a detainer request.

A third provision would allow victims of certain violent crimes committed by immigrants in sanctuaries to file lawsuits against that city, county or state.


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