President Donald Trump on Tuesday threw his support behind two Republican immigration bills in the House that would end a much-criticized administration policy that has separated families caught illegally crossing the U.S. border with Mexico.
Trump told House Republicans in a private meeting Tuesday evening at the Capitol that he would sign either more restrictive immigration legislation backed by House conservatives or a compromise measure designed to appeal to more moderate Republicans.
"We had a great meeting," he called out as he left the talks, but he gave no other information on possible progress.
House Republican leaders had rushed this week to modify the immigration legislation as the furor grew over the Trump administration's policy of separating children from parents entering the U.S. illegally.
"He endorsed both House immigration bills that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb chain migration, and solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal," White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement. "He told the members, 'I'm with you 100 percent.'"
Changes to the Republican legislation include a provision requiring that families caught at the border be held together by the Department of Homeland Security instead of transferring parents to the Justice Department for criminal proceedings. But it was not clear whether either proposal could pass in the House.
At an earlier event Tuesday, Trump said he was asking Congress for "the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit." He said it was "the only solution to the border crisis."
The House Republican compromise legislation has been the subject of weeks of negotiations between conservatives and moderates in consultation with the White House.
Trump appeared to stop short of explicitly telling members to vote for the compromise bill, according to Republicans leaving the meeting, but he said he supports the process the House has gone through in recent weeks to come up with a Republican-negotiated bill.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican who advocated for protecting from deportation some young people in the U.S. illegally, said Trump "indicated" that he would sign the compromise bill. Curbelo said the bill "has a chance" to pass but that "it will be difficult."
Rep. Mark Meadows, a conservative North Carolina Republican, said Trump told members that they needed to "get something done and get it done right away."
Rep. Mark Walker, another North Carolina Republican, said he doesn't know if Trump's presentation was enough to persuade wavering conservatives to vote for the compromise.
"I don't know if they heard what they were looking for," Walker said. "If they're in that position, they might need a bit more."
The president's meeting with House Republicans on Tuesday was a chance to assure jittery conservatives that he supports the compromise legislation. A series of conflicting statements from Trump on Friday left immigration hard-liners concerned that his shifting policy positions could leave them trying to explain a tough vote to their most conservative constituents before November's election, when all House seats are up for grabs.
But Trump on Tuesday again gave conflicting signals. The president told the National Federation of Independent Business that the House is getting ready to "finalize an immigration package that they are going to brief me on later and that I'm going to make changes to."
The original draft of the Republican compromise bill was released last week, and the updated version is set for a floor vote on Thursday.
Another change made Tuesday in the bill would provide $7 billion of the funds meant for border technology to add facilities to detain families together, according to an aide familiar with the changes.
The GOP compromise bill also eliminates some categories of visas for legal immigration, finances the construction of Trump's border wall by 2026 and allows young people in the U.S. illegally, sometimes called "Dreamers," to accrue points for education, work and military service to apply for a new pool of visas.
The broader, more conservative bill, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, is also expected to get a floor vote on Thursday. It will be tough to pass either bill with only Republican votes, and Democrats haven't been involved in the drafting of either proposal.
In the Senate, meanwhile, Republicans are rallying behind a different approach. Theirs is narrow legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas that would allow detained families to stay together in custody while expediting their deportation proceedings.
Cruz's bill would double the number of federal immigration judges, authorize new temporary shelters to house families and limit the processing of asylum cases to no more than 14 days -- a goal that immigration advocates say would be difficult to meet.
"While cases are pending, families should stay together," Cruz tweeted.
The second-ranking Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said they're proposing a "humane, safe and secure family facility" where parents and children could be detained together. He said families would move to the head of the line for processing.
Trump rejected Cruz's proposal, suggesting that many of the immigration judges could be corrupt and saying some lawyers who appear in their courtrooms are "bad people."
"They said, 'Sir, we'd like to hire about five or six thousand more judges,'" Trump said Tuesday in his speech to the National Federation of Independent Business. "Five or six thousand? Now, can you imagine the graft that must take place? You're all small-business owners, so I know you can't imagine a thing like that would happen."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that "all of the members of the Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together," endorsing an approach that would provide legal authority to detain parents and children together while their legal status in the country is assessed by the courts.
McConnell said he planned to reach out to Democrats to support the effort, hoping to stanch the political damage from the administration's policy.
But Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, immediately shot down the Republican approach, saying that Trump could -- and should -- use his executive authority, not legislation, to quickly end the family separations.
"There are so many obstacles to legislation, and when the president can do it with his own pen, it makes no sense," Schumer said.
All 49 members of the Senate's Democratic caucus are rallying behind a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California to prohibit children from being separated from their parents within 100 miles of the U.S. border except in instances of abuse, neglect or other specific circumstances.
More legal challenges to the administration's policy arose Tuesday, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said his state would sue the Trump administration over the family separation practice. The American Civil Liberties Union is already pursuing a nationwide class-action lawsuit in San Diego.
Meanwhile, a second Republican governor -- Larry Hogan of Maryland -- announced Tuesday that he would not deploy National Guard resources to the border until the Trump administration stops separating children and parents as part of criminal prosecution efforts. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced a similar decision Monday.
Also on Tuesday, Trump administration officials defended their treatment of the children who had been separated from their parents at the border, describing a network of shelters in 17 states that provided education, counseling, health care services and playtime until children were reunited with their parents.
Officials from the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services insisted to reporters that the children in their custody were treated humanely. Of about 12,000 children under care in government facilities, officials said, 2,342 were children who crossed the border between May 5 and June 9 and who were taken from a parent to allow the adult to be charged and detained.
Once the parents were taken away to detention, those children were reclassified by the government as "unaccompanied children" and were quickly sent to Health and Human Services Department shelters.
But the officials disputed allegations of mistreatment of those children, saying that the agencies were subject to strict rules about the care provided to the children.
The facilities are "staffed by people who know how to deal with the needs, particularly of younger children," said Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families. Wagner said that "the children in our care are receiving a full range of services."
As the number of children separated from their parents continues to swell, another facility intended for detaining children is reportedly in the works for Houston.
Southwest Key Programs, the same contractor that operates the facility in south Texas where hundreds of children are being held, plans to operate a new facility for children at a vacant warehouse in Houston's East Downtown. The building's owner, 419 Hope Partners LLC, confirmed to The Washington Post on Monday that Southwest Key recently signed a lease for the warehouse.
"Over the years, we have housed many children under the age of 4 who were sent by [the federal government] to stay in our shelters without a parent, family member or guardian," Southwest Key spokesman Cindy Casares said in a statement. "While they stayed with us, we did the same thing we do for every child in our care. We worked to reunify them with family or sponsor as quickly as is safely possible."
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and other state and local officials have strongly opposed the plans for the new facility.
"I don't want in the city of Houston for us to participate in a policy that I think is morally bankrupt. This is not about party, not about Democrat or Republican, nothing about that. It's about valuing children," said Turner, a Democrat.
Information for this article was contributed by Jennifer Epstein, Steven T. Dennis, Anna Edgerton, Billy House, Laura Litvan, Margaret Talev and Erik Wasson of Bloomberg News; by Michael D. Shear, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Thomas Kaplan of The New York Times; by Meagan Flynn, Mike DeBonis, Philip Rucker, Seung Min Kim, John Wagner, Sean Sullivan, Josh Dawsey, Paul Kane, Mark Berman and Erica Werner of The Washington Post; and by Lisa Mascaro, Alan Fram, Jonathan Lemire, Jill Colvin, Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press.
A Section on 06/20/2018
Print Headline: Trump backs GOP effort on immigration