Promise of Votes Quells Immigration Squabble

Congress is set to vote on two immigration bills next week. One bill, authored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), would reform the H-2A agricultural guest worker program. ( Farm Journal )

(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Paul Ryan brokered a deal among Republican factions that quelled a rebellion by moderates and will put to a vote next week two immigration bills that would provide some protection for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

The agreement, reached Tuesday night, at least temporarily stalls a bipartisan petition drive to force floor votes on additional immigration measures GOP leaders don’t want to take up. Republican leaders said the so-called discharge petition would give Democrats too much leverage to push the proposals they prefer.

Disagreements over a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, and known as Dreamers, have kept consensus out of reach for weeks, along with changes to legal immigration and financing for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

The GOP compromise didn’t finalize details of the legislation that will be considered, but it did lay out a strategy that the two main Republican factions said they could live with, according to participants in the meetings.

‘Good Faith’

“Members across the Republican Conference have negotiated directly and in good faith with each other for several weeks, and as a result, the House will consider two bills next week that will avert the discharge petition and resolve the border security and immigration issues,” AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said in a statement.

One of those bills that will get a vote is a conservative immigration proposal sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, even though Ryan previously said it didn’t have enough Republican support to pass. This bill would provide temporary protection for Dreamers while constricting legal immigration by limiting immigrants’ ability to sponsor family members to come to the U.S. and by eliminating the diversity visa lottery.

Ryan also will schedule a vote on a to-be-determined compromise bill from moderates that would include border security measures along with a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

“This is an effort to bring our conference together on immigration,” Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters on Wednesday. He said Republicans have been “working hand-in-glove with the administration on this.”

Two Votes Short

Pushing the GOP-only negotiations into next week was an important step for Ryan to stall the petition’s momentum, because the effort needed the support of 218 House members by Tuesday if it was to force a vote on the four immigration proposals by June 25, according to House rules. There is still time for more members to sign on, but the next available date for this kind of vote isn’t until next month.

The petition picked up one more vote -- Henry Cuellar of Texas, the only Democrat who hadn’t yet signed -- but it is still two votes shy of the majority threshold.

Ryan and his deputies worked hard to convince the wavering Republicans to not sign the petition, including a promise to vote on a measure to overhaul the guest worker program that allows companies to legally hire foreigners, especially in the construction, agriculture and service industries.

Ryan’s Pledge

Representatives Dennis Ross of Florida and Dan Newhouse of Washington state said this pledge kept them from giving the petition the final two votes it needed to progress.

Newhouse thanked Ryan and majority leader Kevin McCarthy of California “for committing to me personally to bring forward a separate immigration bill that addresses agriculture’s labor needs before the August district work period,” according to a statement from his office. 

Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA)
Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA)

“Agriculture is a labor-intensive industry and there remains a shortage of domestic labor,” Newhouse said. “Our farmers and ranchers must have access to a legal and reliable workforce in order to provide the world with a safe and abundant supply of food.”

Carlos Curbelo, the Florida Republican who began the petition, hailed the commitment to vote on two bills next week as a “major development” in the broader immigration debate. Even though Tuesday’s deadline passed, he said immigration advocates in Congress won’t let up the pressure.

“While the legislation to be revealed in the coming days is based on the productive negotiations hosted by House leaders over the last several weeks, it is vital our colleagues remain committed to the discharge petition,” Curbelo said.


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