GOP Leaders Prepare for Rejection of Latest Immigration Bill

WASHINGTON—House Republican leaders braced for defeat on the party’s bill as an effort to build GOP support ahead of a vote Wednesday collapsed after President

Donald Trump

declined to throw his full weight behind the measure.

To build more support for the measure, called the compromise bill, Republican leaders had suggested adding provisions to make it harder for immigrants to work in the U.S. without legal documentation and to expand an agricultural guest workers program. But those provisions were expected to be left out of the final measure after they failed to attract enough new votes.

“The die has been cast at this point,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R., N.C.), who participated in discussions to hash out a deal but now plans to vote against the bill. “I feel like we bumped the surface of it a couple times, but never got across the finish line.”

GOP leaders faced a difficult balancing act in marshaling support, as Democrats made clear they wouldn’t support the bill, saying it was too harsh. Republican centrists had insisted that the bill provide a legal status, including a special pathway to citizenship, to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors and living in the country without legal authorization. The party’s most conservative members balked at extending new privileges to the young immigrants, known as Dreamers, partly out of concern that political pressure would mount to extend citizenship to their parents.

House Speaker

Paul Ryan

(R., Wis.) had agreed to hold the vote as part of a deal with centrist Republicans to head off a procedural maneuver that could have resulted in the passage of a bill reflecting Democratic priorities on immigration.

By last week, it became clear the bill was in trouble, and the vote was delayed by a day, and then to this week.

“I want to lean into that vote and do as well as we possibly can,” Mr. Ryan said on Tuesday.

In recent weeks, pressure built on Congress to act on immigration amid a public outcry over children being separated from their parents arrested for crossing the border illegally. But the bill never got the strong presidential endorsement that could have pushed it over the top.

Mr. Trump initially said he would oppose the compromise measure, then said he supported it. Last week, following a postponement in the planned vote, Mr. Trump said Republicans should delay a vote until after the midterm elections, when he predicted they would have more solid majorities. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump said that U.S. immigration policy for illegal border crossers should amount to, “I’m sorry, you can’t come in,” and pressed for funding for his border barriers.

“I don’t think it was helpful,” said Rep. Scott Taylor (R., Va.) about Mr. Trump’s wavering on the House bill. “There’s no question that in some districts, the president’s view of it or his support of whatever the bill might be gives a bump. If he had given a full-throated endorsement of this bill, which is a good negotiation, I think it absolutely increases the chances of passing.”

The center of gravity had shifted by the end of the day after talks between the moderate and centrist conservatives bill ran into an intractable math problem: making changes to one part of the bill won votes of one group of Republicans but lost support of others.

House Republican leaders plan to vote on the immigration overhaul on Wednesday before voting as early as Thursday on a targeted bill dealing with a Trump administration policy that led to the forced separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents, who had been arrested for illegally crossing the border. The targeted bill was expected to focus on allowing families to be detained together. A decades-old court settlement bars children from being jailed for more than 20 days, a policy that the Trump administration had argued forced it to begin separating children from migrant parents being prosecuted for entering the U.S.

Whether legislation dealing with that narrow issue can pass remained up in the air. Rep. Jeff Denham (R., Calif.), who comes from a district with a large Hispanic population and who was central in negotiating the compromise bill, said that “I’m not confident that’s going to pass the House.” He also said he was “disappointed” that “at the end of the day, it is very clear that Republicans can not pass an immigration bill.”

Senate Minority Leader

Chuck Schumer

(D., N.Y.) on Tuesday dismissed calls for Congress to legislate quickly. “The president and the administration can solve this problem on their own,” Mr. Schumer said. “The president created this problem. The quickest way to fix it is administratively.”

Democrats have pressed Mr. Trump to revert to the former policy, which allowed illegal border crossers seeking asylum to be released into the U.S. while they awaited a court date, rather than the “zero tolerance” approach, in which parents were arrested and separated from children. Mr. Trump last week ordered his administration to try to keep families together, but that faces legal and logistical hurdles.

The compromise bill being voted on Wednesday is designed to meet each of the four pillars of a White House immigration overhaul blueprint. It would provide $23.4 billion for border security, including a wall and surveillance technology, over nine years. It would eliminate a diversity lottery that provides visas to people from underrepresented countries and cut family-based immigration.

The bill also would make it harder to pursue asylum claims by requiring asylum seekers to prove their claims that they fear persecution at home are more probable than not to be true. That is a higher hurdle than under existing law. It would give six years of legal status to young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and living in the country without authorization. The Dreamers ultimately would be eligible for a pathway to citizenship under a new merit-based system that would reward immigrants for meeting criteria such as proficiency in English.

Write to Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com and Joshua Jamerson at joshua.jamerson@wsj.com

Appeared in the June 27, 2018, print edition as ‘GOP Lacks Immigration Consensus.’

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