House Republicans emerged from a critical meeting on immigration Thursday to say they are committed to writing a bill that matches President Trump’s four pillars of reform — but didn’t make much headway on settling big issues such as whether illegal immigrants will get full citizenship rights.
The meeting did, however, buy Republican leaders more time to come up with answers.
A number of Republicans said they will hold off on signing a petition that would force Democrats’ preferred alternative onto the floor and instead will give Republican leaders until early next week to write a bill that can bridge the deep divides within their party.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, acknowledged that “time is of the essence” but said the lawmakers don’t have answers yet.
“This is a conversation that will continue,” he said after a two-hour meeting with fellow House Republicans in the basement of the Capitol.
Rank-and-file Republicans said they are still focused on President Trump’s four pillars of combining a significant amnesty for nearly 2 million illegal immigrants with stiffer border security and faster deportations, curtailing the chain of family migration, and ending the visa lottery that doles out immigration passes by chance.
Republicans also said, however, that they are wary of a repeat of 1986, the last major amnesty, when Congress and President Reagan approved a path to citizenship for nearly 3 million illegal immigrants and promised stiffer enforcement, but ended up with only the amnesty.
Lawmakers said the meeting was a broad exchange of ideas intended to get proposals onto the table.
“This was a great start. Let’s do this, but let’s do this again with a chalkboard, with a white board, with a bunch of people with notepads, and the House and the Senate sitting together. And if Democrats want to join us and talk about it too, if the president wants to sit down, let’s all sit down,” said Rep. Brian J. Mast, Florida Republican.
Still, he said, Thursday’s meeting “achieved a lot.”
Some centrist Republicans have teamed up with Democrats to try to force the issue. They are backing a petition drive that would trigger a floor debate on a series of immigration proposals.
They need 218 signatures to succeed and had 215 names as of Thursday evening. All but one Democrat has signed the petition, meaning it will take more Republican rebels to force debate. Several said Thursday that they will add their names if they don’t see a Republican plan by early next week.
If the petition drive succeeds, it will set up a series of votes on up to four immigration plans. The leading alternative, backed by Democrats and centrist Republicans, would grant citizenship rights to more than 2 million illegal immigrants, coupled with a promise to study border security needs in the future.
Mr. Trump and Republican leaders in Congress say that doesn’t go far enough. They say they are willing to grant some sort of legal status to illegal immigrant “Dreamers” and perhaps other illegal immigrants, but they insist it must be accompanied by major changes to the immigration system.
They are working off of Mr. Trump’s framework, which envisioned citizenship for up to 1.8 million illegal immigrants, combined with funding for a border wall and legal changes to speed up deportations, a reduction in the number of family members a migrant can sponsor for immigration, and an end to the visa lottery that doles out immigration passes by chance.
Some conservatives say they can’t accept any legal status for illegal immigrants, while others say they could accept legal status but not a path to citizenship.
“The pathway to citizenship remains still the thorniest issue,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and House Freedom Caucus chairman.
One option a number of lawmakers mentioned after emerging from Thursday’s meeting was a “trigger,” which would delay full legal status for illegal immigrants until after border security is in the works.
No Dreamer would gain a more permanent legal status “until money is not just appropriated but actually spent on border security,” said Rep. Mark Walker, North Carolina Republican, referring to the Obama-era deportation amnesty, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which is protecting 700,000 illegal immigrant Dreamers.
Democrats are in little mood to compromise. They figure they will either get their preferred bill or wait until after the November elections, when they expect to be in a better position — perhaps with a majority in the House — to dictate the terms of debate.
Democrats are being prodded by angry activists who want a broad legalization and an end to deportations altogether.
“We, our parents and community members, are literally being hunted down, and Congress can protect us by passing the Dream Act and defunding the racist deportation force,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, deputy executive director at United We Dream, a leading advocate for Dreamers.
Unable to count on any Democratic support, Republican leaders must try to build consensus from within their own ranks — but the divisions may be too great.
Some Republicans said they fear their party is headed for a repeat of 1986, when the Reagan amnesty granted permanent legal residence to 2.7 million people and promised stiff sanctions on employers who hired illegal immigrants, better border controls and checks on migrants applying for some welfare.
The stiffer enforcement didn’t materialize.
Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, was running a construction company in 1986 and said he was so angry at the time that he kicked a dent into the drawer of a filing cabinet. For years later, he had to jerk the drawer to open it.
“It was a reminder to me that I would commit a lot of the rest of my life to restoring respect for the rule of law. And it’s just surrealistic that I’m standing in here listening to member after member talk about everything except what they’re doing, which is destroying the rule of law,” he said.
© Copyright (c) 2018 News World Communications, Inc.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.