U.S. House of Representatives Republicans on Wednesday worked to come up with legislation protecting “Dreamer” immigrants from deportation while meeting President Donald Trump’s demands for tougher border security and possibly new limits on legal migration.
With a group of centrist Republicans threatening to force debate this month on a series of immigration bills that could result in one that most in the party do not like, the pressure was on House Speaker Paul Ryan to craft a measure that would avoid brewing revolts from opposing wings.
“We’re still not in a situation where there is an agreement,” said Representative Mark Meadows after a nearly two-hour meeting of Republican lawmakers in Ryan’s office.
Meadows heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which demands construction of a wall along the southwest border with Mexico and has sought new limits on legal migration.
Republican Representative Jim Jordan, another Freedom Caucus leader, said “Heck yes” when asked whether the wall was an important part of the closed-door negotiations.
Some Republicans who attended the meeting also said any bill presented to the full House could not provide a “special pathway” to citizenship for the hundreds of thousands of Dreamer immigrants, who are living in the United States after being brought here illegally as children.
These immigrants are at the heart of the push in Congress for legislation after Trump last September announced he was ending an Obama-era program - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA - providing them with temporary protection from deportation.
Some Republicans attending the meeting with Ryan did not shoot down the possibility that legislation could put others already in the United States illegally onto a citizenship track.
There are an estimated 11 million to 12 million of these people.
Meanwhile, the group of centrist Republicans attempting to force a House floor debate on immigration edged closer to their goal. Two more lawmakers on Wednesday signed a petition backing the move, against Ryan’s wishes, leaving supporters only three short of the 218 signatures needed.
“We are as close as we’ve ever been” to a deal on an immigration bill, Representative Carlos Curbelo, a leader of that effort, told reporters after the meeting.
But he noted that a “loose consensus” will have to be presented to all 235 House Republicans for their input on Thursday.
Curbelo would not predict whether any bill produced by Republicans would win Democratic support, which would be needed to win passage in the Senate.
Reporting By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Editing by Bill Berkrot