WASHINGTON — House Republicans are set to vote Wednesday on a hard-fought immigration compromise between conservative and moderate GOP flanks, but the bill has lost any real chance for passage despite a public outcry over the crisis at the border.
Instead, lawmakers are expected to turn toward a narrow bill to prevent immigrant family separations in hopes of addressing that issue before leaving town for the Fourth of July recess.
GOP leaders set out to pass the sweeping immigration measure on their own, without Democratic input, after some members agitated for action. Now they are facing almost certain defeat, stung by their own divisions and President Donald Trump’s wavering support.
It remained unclear late Tuesday what the final version of the immigration legislation would contain. GOP negotiators had been working over the weekend on an amendment to tack on provisions to draw more support. But it was not expected to be included.
The broader bill includes trade-offs, including a multi-year path to citizenship for young immigrants who have been living in the U.S. illegally since childhood and $25 billion for Trump’s border wall. It also would stem family separations at the border by doing away with longstanding rules that prevents minors from being detained for more than 20 days; instead, children could be held in custody with their parents for longer stretches.
House Speaker Paul Ryan insisted the drawn-out effort has been worthwhile and could lay the groundwork for an eventual legislative package. But that outcome is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Wednesday’s vote was expected to be a check-the-box exercise designed to fulfill a promise to moderate Republicans who demanded the House GOP address immigration.
“We have a big conference with big, different views,” Ryan said about the GOP majority that controls the House. “What we have here is the seeds of consensus that will be gotten to, hopefully now, but, if not, later.”
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In a last-ditch effort to round up more support, GOP negotiators were considering an amendment requiring employers to verify legal status of employees and addressing immigrant workers in the agricultural sector. They also considered a provision to prevent parents of young immigrants from gaining citizenship.
But with Trump panning the entire package, and wavering lawmakers backing off, moderate leaders were weighing whether it made sense to pile on more provisions if there were no more supporters to be gained.
Instead, they were settling on a version without the late changes.
Final passage remained in doubt because many conservatives are simply opposed to the legislation’s underlying provision — a chance for citizenship for many immigrants who arrived illegally in the U.S. as children. They have blasted that provision as “amnesty.”
“You’ve got to be unified on this and I get the feeling we’re not unified,” said Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., who said he was still deciding how to vote.
Democrats widely oppose the Republican overhaul. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump needs to fix the problem created by the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of criminally prosecuting anyone caught crossing illegally that resulted in family separations at the border.
“This administration needs to present a plan ASAP of how to unify the kids and how to deal with border,” Schumer said.
More than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents after illegal crossings, sparking public outrage over the spectacle of crying kids being held in makeshift facilities. The practice was abandoned after Trump ordered the families kept together.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testified Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee that that his agency cannot reunite the families while parents remain in custody because, under a legal settlement, the children cannot be held beyond 20 days.
He wants Congress to fix the law. But questioned by Democratic senators, Azar refused to say how long the children would remain in Health and Human Services shelters.
More than 100 House Democrats signed onto a letter demanding the administration provide a detailed breakdown of expenses incurred in separating immigrant children from their parents. They also are asking for an estimated cost of reuniting families.
Lawmakers have been blindsided by the Trump administration’s policy, launched this spring, which resulted in the dire images of children being separated from parents. They are quickly trying to put themselves on record as fixing the problem. Some 500 minors have been reunited so far, officials said.
Senators are pushing ahead on a slimmer bill to halt the family separations with a similar approach as in the House bill that does away with 20-day detention limits. It would also add more than 200 immigration judges, even though Trump has said judges will only create graft.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sounded a rare note of optimism that legislation could be approved by the end of the week.
The Republican leader told reporters he hopes talks between Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., could quickly produce a compromise plan. He called it an “emergency issue.”
Even though Trump’s executive order called for an end to separating children from parents who cross the border illegally, lawmakers doubt it will stand in court. They want a legislative solution.
House Republicans were watching the Senate while also working on their own plan to address the family separations. Voting on that bill could come by Thursday.
Ahead of the midterm election, many Republicans are also eager to address the border crisis and distance themselves from the Trump administration’s policy. They want to be able to show constituents they voted to end it.
With the Senate’s narrow 51-seate GOP majority, a compromise with Democrats would likely be needed to reach the 60-vote threshold usually required to advance legislation.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.