GOP immigration bill fails; vote on 2nd measure put off

Posted: June 22, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks with reporters in advance of votes on two broad immigration bills, deriding the Republican immigration legislation as a "compromise with the devil" at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 21, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON -- With the party's lawmakers fiercely divided, Republican leaders delayed a planned vote on a compromise GOP package after the House killed a hard-right immigration bill Thursday.

The conservative measure was defeated 231-193, with 41 Republicans -- mostly moderates -- joining Democrats in voting against it. Those Republicans -- nearly 1 in 5 GOP lawmakers -- underscored the party's chasm over immigration and the election-year pressures Republicans face to stay true to districts that range from staunchly conservative to pro-immigrant.

Thursday's vote set the stage for debate on the second bill, that one crafted by Republican leaders in hopes of finding an accord between the party's sparring moderate and conservative wings. That compromise was considered too lenient by some conservatives and seemed likely to fall, too. The vote has been delayed until next week.

In a last-ditch effort to round up votes, President Donald Trump called Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., on Thursday and said he supports the consensus bill. Goodlatte delivered the president's message in a private GOP meeting, but it did little to persuade holdouts.

"I appreciate the president's opinion and his input ... to me, we voted today on a bill that I thought was more indicative of where the people are and what the president originally ran on," said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., as he emerged from the session.

Several hard-liners said Thursday that there was nothing leaders could do to persuade them to vote for the compromise bill. "I'm a big fat 'no,' capital letters," said Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa. "It's amnesty, chain migration, and there's no guarantee that the wall will be built."

As if the internal GOP turmoil was not enough, the party's political exposure on the issue has been intensified by images of children separated from their parents at the border, and complicated by opaque statements by Trump.

At the White House, Trump defended his administration's "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting all people caught illegally entering the country, a change that has caused thousands of families to be divided while the parents are detained. He said without it, "you would have a run on this country the likes of which nobody has ever seen."

He said he was inviting Congress' top two Democrats, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, to the White House for immigration bargaining. He called them "extremist open-border Democrats."

And in a tweet that seemed to undermine House leaders' efforts to round up votes, he questioned the purpose of their legislation by suggesting that it was doomed in the Senate anyway.

"What is the purpose of the House doing good immigration bills when you need 9 votes by Democrats in the Senate, and the Dems are only looking to Obstruct (which they feel is good for them in the Mid-Terms)," Trump wrote. "Republicans must get rid of the stupid Filibuster Rule-it is killing you!"

Trump issued an executive order Wednesday aimed at reversing the policy of taking children from their detained parents.

[FULL TEXT: Read Trump’s executive order]

Late Thursday, a senior Trump administration official said about 500 children had been reunited with their families since May.

The official said many of the children were reunited within days after being separated from their families. It wasn't clear how many of the reunited children remained in custody with their families or how many were no longer in the country.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the Health and Human Services Department are working to set up a centralized reunification process at the Port Isabel detention center near Los Fresnos, Texas, according to the official, who was not authorized to give out the number of reunited children and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a detour, the House used an early procedural vote to correct what Republicans called a drafting error -- language providing $100 billion more than they'd planned to help build Trump's proposed border wall with Mexico. Instead of giving initial approval for $24.8 billion spread over the next five years, the legislation said it would open the door to $24.8 billion "for each" of the next five years.

The rejected conservative bill would have granted no pathway to citizenship for young "Dreamers" who arrived in the country as children and are now in the U.S. illegally, curbed legal immigration and bolstered border security.

The second was a compromise between GOP moderates and the party's conservatives that included an opportunity for citizenship for the "Dreamers." It provides $25 billion for Trump's wall, restrictions on legal immigration and language requiring the Homeland Security Department to keep families together while they're being processed for illegal entry to the U.S.

Neither bill was negotiated with Democrats or was expected to garner any Democratic votes. The family separations have prompted Democrats to dig in against the Republican immigration efforts barring a complete reversal of Trump's "zero tolerance" policy.

"It is not a compromise," Pelosi told reporters. "It may be a compromise with the devil, but it is not a compromise with the Democrats."

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said the GOP's inability to find consensus inside its ranks would remain a persistent barrier to action on immigration -- at least, he said, until Democrats win congressional majorities.

"They're bringing legislation to the floor that was negotiated exclusively between their right wing and their extreme right wing," he said. "They're polarizing this issue in such a way that it's going to be more and more difficult to actually fix things."

In the unlikely event that the House approved the GOP compromise, it seemed certain to go nowhere in the GOP-run Senate. Democrats there have enough votes to use procedural delays to kill it. Sixty votes are needed to end filibusters.

Even though Trump has acted unilaterally to stem the family separations, lawmakers still prefer a legislative fix. The administration is not ending its "zero tolerance" approach to border prosecutions. If the new policy is rejected by the courts, which the administration acknowledges is a possibility, the debate could move back to square one.

Senate Republicans, fearing Trump's action will not withstand a legal challenge and eager to go on record opposing the administration's policy, have unveiled their own legislation to keep detained families together.

In the House, moderate Republicans forced the immigration debate to the fore by threatening to use a rare procedure to demand a vote. Led by Reps. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Jeff Denham, R-Calif., many are from states with large populations of young people brought to the U.S. as children who now face deportation threats under Trump's decision to end President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. A federal court challenge has kept the program running for now.

MAYORS AT BORDER

Meanwhile, the mayors of about 20 U.S. cities gathered Thursday at a holding facility for children in the border city of El Paso, Texas. They accused Trump of failing to address a crisis of his own making.

They called for the immediate reunification of detained children with their families.

"This is a humanitarian crisis," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said.

The federal public defender's office for the region that covers cases from El Paso to San Antonio said Thursday that the U.S. attorney's office would be dismissing cases in which parents were charged with illegally entering or re-entering the country and were subsequently separated from their children.

"Going forward, they will no longer bring criminal charges against a parent or parents entering the United States if they have their child with them," wrote Maureen Scott Franco, the federal public defender for the Western District of Texas, in an email.

Separately, U.S. Border Patrol announced that it will no longer refer parents who cross into the United States illegally with children to federal courthouses to face criminal charges, according to a senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"We're suspending prosecutions of adults who are members of family units until [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] can accelerate resource capability to allow us to maintain custody," the official said.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to explain how enforcement operations will change to comply with Trump's order.

A spokesman for the Justice Department, Sarah Isgur Flores, denied that prosecutions would be suspended.

"There has been no change to the Department's zero-tolerance policy to prosecute adults who cross our border illegally instead of claiming asylum at any port of entry at the border," she said.

Because Immigration and Customs Enforcement lacks the detention capacity to increase the number of families it holds in detention, the official acknowledged that many parents and children will likely be released from custody while they await court hearings.

Top Customs and Border Protection officials did not know what the executive order would ask them to do until its release Wednesday, the official said. The decision to cease prosecutions of parents with children was made by the Department of Homeland Security for logistical purposes because the official said it would not be "feasible" to take children to federal courtrooms while their parents go before a judge.

Adults who cross illegally will continue to face misdemeanor charges under the "zero-tolerance" policy implemented six weeks ago, the official said.

[U.S. immigration: Data visualization of selected immigration statistics, U.S. border map]

Elsewhere, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia ordered an investigation into claims by children at an immigration detention facility that they were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells.

Information for this article was contributed by Nomaan Merchant, Susan Montoya Bryan, Lisa Mascaro, Alan Fram, Kevin Freking, Robert Burns, Colleen Long, Amy Taxin and Laurie Kellman of The Associated Press; and by Nick Miroff, Mike DeBonis, John Wagner, Karoun Demirjian, Paul Kane, Sean Sullivan and Erica Werner of The Washington Post.

A Section on 06/22/2018