House GOP to test conservative immigration bill as deadline for Dreamers looms

House Republican leaders are moving ahead to see whether there’s support within the ranks for a hard-line conservative immigration bill with less than six weeks remaining until thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as young children could face deportation.

According to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald, the office of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., will host a staff briefing Thursday afternoon to educate aides about immigration legislation sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

A Scalise aide said that the meeting was routine.

“It’s the same process we would follow on any big issue, bringing in staff and members to learn about what’s being proposed and provide input,” the aide said. “In this case, Judiciary and Homeland Security [Committee] staff will be on hand to answer questions and hear concerns.”

Some Republicans have already voiced public concerns. Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo said Goodlatte’s bill “reads as if it was drafted by [former Donald Trump advisor] Steve Bannon.”

Privately, some members are concerned that Thursday’s meeting is a “tacit nudge” in favor of the bill from leadership to rank-and-file members.

But the briefing is also in keeping with a commitment House GOP leaders made to members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. They promised the roughly three-dozen members of the contingent that in exchange for voting to avert a government shutdown, they would take measures to determine whether the so-called “Goodlatte bill” could be brought to the House floor and pass with 218 Republican votes.

The Goodlatte bill would cut legal immigration levels by 25 percent, block federal grants to “sanctuary cities” that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities, fund Trump’s wall at the southern U.S. border, end the diversity visa lottery and scrap green cards for many immigrants’ extended family members.

It also would provide a three-year renewable status for current recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program instead of providing a path to permanent residency or citizenship. That’s a major nonstarter for Democrats and even many Republicans who are seeking permanent protection for so-called “Dreamers,” the young immigrants brought to the country illegally as young children by their parents.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham derided Goodlatte’s bill as the “Mass Deportation Act.”

“The Mass Deportation Act is a farce of a bill,” Lujan Grisham of New Mexico said in a statement. “The bill undermines local law enforcement, it hurts farmers, hurts families, guts legal immigration; and aims to rip apart communities through mass deportation, while only providing Dreamers with temporary protections and no pathway to citizenship.”

The bill would not receive the necessary votes to advance in the Senate, and there’s even a question whether it has the support to pass in the House. House leaders won’t commit to putting Goodlatte’s bill on the floor unless it receives 218 Republican votes. Republicans currently control 238 seats in the lower chamber, and many of these members want something more lenient for undocumented immigrants, particularly DACA recipients.

House Republican leaders could begin to query members on their support for the Goodlatte proposal when members return to Washington next week. The briefing will provide staffers with the information they need to help their bosses decide whether they should support or oppose the bill.

The Thursday briefing on the House side of the Capitol is taking place as other factions are forming to come up with an immigration deal by Feb. 8. Though the DACA program does not expire until March 5 after President Trump announced he would not renew it, Democrats will want to have seen progress on a framework they can support early next month as a condition of voting on another government spending bill.

Essentially, the race is on to produce a plan that can pass in both chambers of Congress and get the president’s signature.

“We want to see a legislative package that … can pass both the House and the Senate and make it to the president’s desk, so that we can help actually fix our immigration system,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday, a day after also signaling support for the Goodlatte bill.

A growing group of centrist senators has been meeting to hash out the details on a bipartisan immigration proposal, expected to be based on a blueprint first established by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Their original plan would create a pathway to citizenship for nearly 800,000 undocumented children in the country through DACA. It would end the diversity lottery program and allow $2.7 billion for border security measures.

Graham and Durbin’s proposal has been panned by the White House and conservatives on and off Capitol Hill as a nonstarter.

On Wednesday evening, Trump said that Dreamers “should not be worried” and that protections for Dreamers could “morph into citizenship” within 10 to 12 years. The president also added that he may extend DACA past March 5 but “I’m not guaranteeing it.”

The White House will release its own set of immigration “principles” on Monday.

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