A sweeping US House of Representatives immigration overhaul yesterday teetered on the brink of collapse as lawmakers struggled to move past an issue that has become politically fraught amid the dire images of families being separated at the border.
US President Donald Trump’s sudden executive action over the border crisis stemmed some of the urgency for US Congress to act, but House Republican leaders were still pulling out the stops to bring reluctant Republicans on board in hopes of resolving broader immigration issues ahead of the November midterm elections.
Passage of the bill was always a long shot, but failure might now come at a steeper price as Republicans — and Trump — have raised expectations that, as the party in control of US Congress and the White House, they can fix the nation’s long-standing immigration problems.
“This is a bill that has consensus. This is a bill that the president supports. It’s a bill that could become law,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said.
The outcome remained uncertain, despite a frenzied effort to pull in the final votes.
House Speaker Paul Ryan took two dozen wavering lawmakers to the White House so Trump could cajole them into supporting the bill.
US Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions trekked to the Capitol to meet privately with groups of Republican lawmakers.
Ahead of yesterday’s vote, the results of the outreach were mixed.
“We have a chance,” US Representative Carlos Curbelo said. “It won’t be easy.”
Another Republican, Representative Joe Wilson, announced he would support the legislation after meeting with Trump, who he said was persuasive.
US Representative Lou Barletta, who is running for the US Senate in Pennsylvania, told Trump at the meeting he would have to remain a “no” vote.
“I didn’t want my name attached to that,” he said of the bill he decried as an amnesty for immigrants who are in the US illegally.
The compromise bill is the product of hard-fought negotiations between the Republican conservative and moderate factions that dragged on for several weeks. The measure is unlikely to pick up much, if any, Democratic support.
The House was also to vote on a more hard-line immigration proposal favored by conservatives. It was expected to fail.
The nearly 300-page compromise measure creates a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants known as “Dreamers,” who have been living in the US illegally since childhood.
It provides US$25 billion Trump wants for his promised border wall with Mexico and it revises the longstanding preference for family visas in favor of a merit system based on education level and work skills.
When the crisis of family separations erupted at the border, Republican leaders revised the bill to bolster a provision requiring parents and children to be held together in custody.
They did so by eliminating a 20-day cap on holding minors and allowing indefinite detentions.
Even though Trump has acted unilaterally to stem the family separations, lawmakers still prefer a legislative fix.
The administration is not ending its “zero tolerance” approach to border prosecutions.
If the new policy is rejected by the courts, which the administration acknowledges is a possibility, the debate could move back to square one.
Senate Republicans, fearing Trump’s action will not withstand a legal challenge and eager to go on record opposing the administration’s policy, have unveiled their own legislation to keep detained immigrant families together.
Back in the House, despite Trump’s endorsement of the compromise bill, Ryan’s leadership team has been struggling to ensure passage on its own.
They have encountered persistent Republican divisions that have long prevented the party from tackling a broad immigration bill.
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