House Immigration Bill Seeks to End Family Separation at Border
A House Republican immigration plan would curb the Trump administration’s widely criticized policy of separating children from parents seeking asylum at the U.S. border, but other provisions may lessen its chances of being enacted.
The draft bill being circulated Thursday would provide money for President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall and allow provisional legal status for young undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the U.S. as children. Beneficiaries could apply for a new merit-based green card, a stepping stone to citizenship.
But many of the young immigrants, known as Dreamers, would face an uncertain road to permanent residency — a major sticking point for Democrats who want to guarantee them a path to becoming Americans. The measure may not have enough support from majority Republicans to pass the House without Democratic votes.
The bill is the product of negotiation between GOP factions after moderate Republicans threatened to join Democrats in forcing votes on a series of immigration proposals, contending they wanted action on the issue before the November congressional election. The GOP and Democratic petition stalled after House Speaker Paul Ryan agreed to start new Republican-only talks.
Even though Ryan dismissed that petition as a futile exercise, he didn’t show much confidence that this alternative bill would would fare any better.
“Our members felt very, very passionate about having votes on policies they care about,” Ryan told reporters earlier Thursday. “So we’re bringing legislation that’s been carefully crafted and negotiated to the floor. We won’t guarantee passage.”
Ryan told members the compromise bill will get a House vote next week, along with a more restrictive proposal sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.
The new legislation includes $23.4 billion for border security over eight years, including $16.6 billion for Trump’s wall. According to the draft, the permanent-residency green cards available for Dreamers would be issued each year only if Congress releases the border-wall money.
That legal status would enact into law the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Trump said last year he planned to end. The visas available to this population — including children of some immigrants who came to the U.S. legally — would be awarded on a point system that rewards education, proficiency in English, military service and work.
“If you don’t commit a crime you will get a green card eventually," said GOP Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida. “This bill is the one that has the best chance to get 218 votes" to pass the House, he said.
The visas would be made available by ending some categories of family-based immigration and the diversity visa lottery for people from underrepresented countries, so that the total number of visas wouldn’t increase.
Other restrictions in the bill were sought by conservatives who oppose federal aid for people who broke the law to enter the U.S. People with provisional legal status would be barred from receiving health insurance tax credits under the Affordable Care Act, another limit that won’t sit well with House Democrats.
‘Provide Care and Shelter’
The bill would halt the separation of immigrant families seeking asylum at the border, which has been almost universally denounced as inhumane. This provision would clarify a 1997 court settlement by specifying that children will be allowed to stay with parents in the same detention facilities.
The Department of Homeland Security has taken so many young people from their parents since last month that the Department of Health and Human Services plans to house some of them in a new temporary complex near El Paso, Texas, according to HHS spokesman Kenneth Wolfe.
The issue has become a flashpoint that Democrats have been highlighting with less than five months to go before voters decide which party will control Congress.
Even if the measure to end this practice passes the House as part of this Republican bill, the larger package will face strong resistance in the Senate, where it needs at least nine Democrats to pass. Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas said he wants to pursue separate legislation in his chamber to prevent family separation.
“There is no law that requires a child be taken from a mother’s arms while nursing. This is the Trump administration’s policy,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said. “President Trump could put an end to this immoral policy right now.”
Democrats weren’t included in the drafting of the bill, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signaled strong Democratic opposition to it.
“This bill fails to provide a permanent legislative fix to protect our Dreamers,” she said. “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.”
Second-ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois said the legislation would face united opposition in his chamber.
The draft text includes one of Trump’s top priorities: cutting future legal immigration. It would eliminate U.S. citizens’ ability to sponsor adult siblings and married children for permanent residency, which the president and his allies refer to as "chain migration." Citizens would retain their ability to sponsor their parents for residency.
Democrats have previously expressed openness to limiting family-based immigration, but only alongside legalizing all of the roughly 11 million undocumented people in the U.S.
GOP Representative Joe Barton of Texas, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he is “predisposed “ to vote for the compromise bill. “I want to see a solution,” he said.
Bill negotiator and Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina said he will be seeking changes to the draft.
And GOP immigration hardliner Representative Steve King of Iowa said he opposes the measure.
“Voting for any amnesty for DACA recipients violates the rule of law,” King said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for the young undocumented immigrants.