A U.S. House of Representatives vote on a “consensus” immigration bill was to take place on Erev Shabbos but, after a two-hour closed-door meeting, Republican leaders delayed it until sometime this week.
A more hard-line immigration bill came up for a vote earlier, on Thursday, but it failed, though the 193 votes it garnered were well beyond what had been expected.
President Trump had told Republicans that he backs both immigration bills. Now, though, the attention is on the “consensus” version, which is being crafted by moderate Republicans. The particulars of the bill, though, aren’t clear, and, at last report, it was still being tweaked.
The legislation is expected to include tightening border security, which was a hallmark of the president’s campaign for office and a mainstay of his agenda. The compromise bill, although it would keep immigration levels the same, reportedly appropriates $25 billion in advance to fund the wall the President wants to see built along the Mexican border, and a biometric entry-exit system, as well as a strengthening of “E-Verify,” a Department of Homeland Security program that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.
The compromise bill, reportedly, will also create a new, merit-based green card system with points awarded to residency applicants for education, employment, English proficiency and military service. It will also eliminate the diversity lottery and family visas for married children of U.S. citizens, and siblings of adult U.S. citizens, as well as per-country caps for employment-based immigration.
A compromise bill should also address the issue that has occupied the eyes and ears of Americans, and been the subject of daily headlines, over past days, the separation of children from their parents who entered the United States illegally. The bill should codify a policy to keep unlawful immigrant families together, which the president has said he wishes to do.
A sensible option being considered is for provisions to be made to house families who are going through criminal proceedings for first-time border crossings rather than turn them over to the Justice Department, as the current “zero tolerance” policy mandates. A compromise bill should provide funding for such detention centers.
An important part of immigration reform will be a resolution of the current limbo in which immigrants who are in the country illegally after having been brought here years ago as children, commonly known as “Dreamers,” find themselves.
President Trump ended the protections afforded them by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, last September and declared that it was up to Congress to decide the Dreamers’ future. But lawmakers have yet to act on the issue, or on other immigration reform measures.
The current “consensus” bill would reasonably allow Dreamers to apply for a multi-year, indefinitely renewable legal status, along the lines of the previous program.
Republican backers of the other, more restrictive bill, though, consider any extension of DACA protections to be an undeserved “amnesty” for people here unlawfully. And Democrats are outraged by the placement of any limitation on family member visas, and want the previous administration’s policy on those who enter the country illegally — to allow them to stay, without incarceration, until their court dates and resolution of their cases — to be reinstated.
Such lines drawn in the legislative sand will, at present, doom any immigration reform bill. The nature of compromise — which is needed here — is that neither side obtains all that it wishes. In the case of immigration reform, moreover, the two most diametric sides do not reflect the feelings of most of the representatives of either party.
Late Friday, President Trump tweeted that Republicans should wait until after the November midterm elections to pass immigration legislation. He is presumably counting on an even stronger and more conservative Republican presence in Congress to make the passage of a more restrictive bill possible.
That outcome, though, is not assured, and the president had earlier invited Democratic leaders to confer with him in the hope of reaching some common ground on immigration issues. That invitation is presumably still open, and we urge those Democratic leaders to take the president up on it and be willing, as most Republican representatives likely are, to reach a mutually acceptable way forward on immigration reform.
With the determination of enough people on both sides of the aisle, and a spirit of honest compromise, a comprehensive immigration bill can, and should, be passed by the House this week.