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House Republicans ready for critical immigration talks with no deal in sight

Citizenship for DACA recipients remains the major sticking point as the GOP meets Thursday.
by Rebecca Shabad and Leigh Ann Caldwell /

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WASHINGTON — House Republicans will meet for potential make-or-break immigration negotiations Thursday morning as they struggle to strike an immigration deal that unites GOP moderates and conservatives — with citizenship for DACA recipients remaining the major sticking point.

The closed-door session comes after a small group of leaders representing various factions within the House GOP conference failed to reach an agreement during a meeting with Republican House leadership Wednesday evening — a stalemate that puts a weekslong effort to reach a compromise in jeopardy.

The Wednesday meeting had been arranged to broker the different factions within the party: the head of the conservative Freedom Caucus, and the group of moderate Republicans who are threatening to take over the House floor by way of a procedure known as a discharge petition — a maneuver that would allow them to offer a number of immigration proposals after a lack of movement on the issue from congressional leaders.

“We’re still not in a situation where there’s an agreement. I think there is great progress that is being made,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said after the meeting.

Lawmakers who were involved in the negotiations Wednesday said that while no deal has been reached, leadership may present some concepts to rank-and-file members behind closed doors Thursday morning.

The moderates’ final offer presented on Wednesday, according to a source familiar with negotiations, included a path to citizenship for DACA recipients after 10 years. In addition, according to the source, moderates proposed an immediate end to the diversity lottery and paring back the family members eligible to come to the U.S. through the family reunification program by eliminating eligibility of adult children. The bank of citizenship slots over 10 years would then be given to DACA recipients.

But conservatives rejected the offer.

“I think the big concern for most conservatives has been the special pathway [to citizenship]” Meadows said.

Border security would also be part of any deal and the most recent proposal, according to the same source familiar with negotiations, would provide up to $20 billion outside of the appropriations process for the border wall. That money could be canceled, however, if the DACA components are rescinded.

Immigration has divided Republicans for years. Conservatives have opposed efforts that could be labeled amnesty while moderates, many of whom have a growing number of immigrants in their districts, have been more open to legislation that addresses the illegal population. This more narrow issue, pertaining to DACA recipients, became the most immediate immigration battle after President Donald Trump cancelled their legal status last year — a decision that has been held up in the courts.

As the midterm elections approach, the issue has become more pressing, especially for moderates who are the most vulnerable of losing their seat, many of whom are the two dozen Republicans who have supported this effort.

Republican leaders, who were reluctant to address immigration before the midterms, are trying to stave off a discharge petition by helping to broker the compromise between the disparate factions.

If the discharge petition moves forward, it would force floor votes on four different immigration proposals including a conservative immigration bill proposed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., a bipartisan version of the Dream Act and a bipartisan bill to protect people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while enhancing border security.

"For us, it's critical that these young immigrants have a bridge onto the legal immigration system," said moderate Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., one of the petition's sponsors, after attending the meeting Wednesday. "There are many different ways of designing that and we been having those discussions."

As of Wednesday evening, 215 lawmakers in the House — including all but one Democrat — had signed the petition. If just three more members sign on, the petition will reach the threshold needed to trigger the process for a floor vote. Discharge petitions can only come to the floor on the second and fourth Mondays of the month when the House is in session, which would make June 25 the earliest a vote could take place. Moderates need to gain those last few signatures by next Tuesday if they want a vote held this month, otherwise, they’d have to wait until at least July.

“We have to get this done relatively quickly,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., after the meeting with leadership.

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., sounded an optimistic note Wednesday.

“I feel good about the conversations that we are having. Our members are earnest and sincere and trying to understand each other’s perspectives. We have a big swath of views within our conference on this issue,” said Ryan. “I really do believe that there is a sweet spot here.”

The White House, for its part, was not directly involved in the negotiations Wednesday, but officials in the West Wing and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have offered technical assistance, Meadows said.

Ryan had made the artificial deadline of Thursday to find an immigration deal after the Freedom Caucus last month, in an attempt to thwart the petition effort, sank the farm bill.

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