Despite Trump tweet, outcome of House immigration vote still uncertain

Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., speaks to KBAK from Capitol Hill on June 27, 2018. (KBAK)

President Donald Trump urged House Republicans to support an immigration reform bill scheduled for a vote Wednesday, though he acknowledged it faces almost certain failure in the Senate, reversing the stance he had taken on Twitter last week that the vote would be pointless.

“HOUSE REPUBLICANS SHOULD PASS THE STRONG BUT FAIR IMMIGRATION BILL, KNOWN AS GOODLATTE II, IN THEIR AFTERNOON VOTE TODAY, EVEN THOUGH THE DEMS WON’T LET IT PASS IN THE SENATE,” Trump wrote in all caps. “PASSAGE WILL SHOW THAT WE WANT STRONG BORDERS & SECURITY WHILE THE DEMS WANT OPEN BORDERS = CRIME. WIN!”

Even with Trump’s endorsement, Republicans were not confident the bill can pass.

“Right now, if I had to bet, I’d say we’re going to come up a little short,” predicted Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.

Valadao was one of more than 20 House Republicans who had signed a discharge petition earlier this month to force a vote on several immigration bills that would address the status of so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who received protection under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. President Trump has tried to end the program, but his order to do so has been tied up in court.

The discharge petition ultimately failed, but leadership agreed to hold votes on two bills: a more conservative measure that was voted down last week and this legislation, which represents a compromise with more moderate factions of the Republican Party.

In addition to providing a path to legal status for Dreamers, the bill would fulfill several demands President Trump has made for border wall funding and changes to the legal immigration system. It would also address the crisis involving the separation of families caught trying to enter the country illegally.

“I hope this bill passes because this is our chance, Republican or Democrat, to make sure no family is ever separated at the border again,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill.

The Trump administration’s recently-introduced policy of prosecuting everyone arrested crossing the border had resulted in more than 2,000 children being taken away from their parents because an existing court settlement limits the amount of time minors can be detained. Last week, Trump signed an executive order that would allow families to remain together in detention, but administration officials have acknowledged it is on shaky legal ground if Congress does not change the law.

“I believe we need a policy that keeps families together and adjudicates these cases quickly,” said Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich.

The legislation set to be voted on Wednesday includes measures intended to satisfy moderate and conservative Republicans, as well as Trump, but not everyone in the party is pleased with the final product. Valadao recognized it is not perfect, but he called it “a good start.”

“To me it’s a very common sense, reasonable approach to move us forward,” Moolenaar said. “The status quo simply isn’t working and we need to make changes.”

Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., agreed that the current immigration system is broken, but he does not believe the GOP approach fixes the problems.

“The Republicans have negotiated this bill behind closed doors without Democratic input, so it’s yet to be seen what type of compromise they come up with,” he said.

No Democrats are expected to vote for the bill, and Valadao indicated more could have been done to secure bipartisan support.

“Leadership has struggled to have both sides at the table and now we’re looking just Republicans to deliver the 218,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough lift.”

Moolenaar also lamented the lack of Democratic involvement.

“Unfortunately, it hasn’t been bipartisan,” he said. “I wish it would be, because I think we need all hands on deck to solve this problem.”

Some supporters of the president’s hardline immigration agenda have already rejected the legislation. In a statement Wednesday, the Center for Immigration Studies branded it “one of the largest amnesty bills in American history” because it would offer legal status to Dreamers and immigrants who were eligible for the DACA program but did not sign up.

“If the bill were enacted it would be the largest amnesty in more than 30 years, despite President Trump's campaign promise of ‘no amnesty’ and after multiple GOP congressional leaders expressed opposition to amnesty for any illegal aliens,” the organization said, encouraging Republicans to advance immigration reforms they agree upon in smaller piecemeal bills instead of this sort of comprehensive legislation.

Republicans have not laid out concrete next steps if the GOP immigration bill sinks on Wednesday. Some are working on a narrower bill that would deal specifically with the family separation issue, but it is not yet clear if that could make it through the House and Senate.

Few lawmakers have shown an appetite to tackle immigration reform again before the midterm elections, but Valadao observed litigation by some Republican attorneys general could result in DACA being ruled unconstitutional this summer. At that point, pressure will fall upon Congress to act or allow Dreamers to face deportation, an outcome that polls suggest Americans overwhelmingly oppose.

“There’s a really good shot that happens in the next month and then Congress will really be under the gun to deliver something quickly,” Valadao said. “Delivering it at the last minute, trying to rush something through is never the right idea.”

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