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Immigration Blog

Paul Ryan Promises House Immigration Bill in Election Season

Hoping to defuse a Republican rebellion, Speaker Paul D. Ryan promised Thursday that House Republicans would draft compromise legislation on immigration, setting up a showdown on one of the thorniest political issues just as the midterm campaign comes into focus.

Conservative Republicans loath to loosen immigration rules remained at odds with moderates pressing to protect young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, as Mr. Ryan and his fellow leaders in the House labored to reach an accord. And the deadline for an agreement could come within days.

Moderate Republican lawmakers need only three more signatures on a petition to force a series of immigration votes over the speaker’s objections, including at least two that would focus on those young immigrants, known as Dreamers. Because of the arcane rules for such “discharge petitions,” those lawmakers face a Tuesday cutoff to gather the 218 names needed to force floor action in late June.

“We have a firm deadline of Tuesday,” said Representative Jeff Denham of California, a leader of the petition drive. “Tuesday we will hit 218.”

After a lengthy meeting with his conference to discuss immigration, Mr. Ryan stressed that pursuing a compromise bill would be a better course than forcing the issue through a petition.

“The next step is to start putting pen to paper so we can get legislation to the floor,” Mr. Ryan told reporters after the meeting. He argued that if rank-and-file lawmakers were to go ahead with forcing immigration votes, the resulting measure would not become law.

“Our members realize it’s better to have a process that has a chance of going into law than not,” Mr. Ryan said.

But it remained unclear if the negotiations on a compromise would satisfy Republican lawmakers who are eager to see the House address the fate of the Dreamers. They have been shielded from deportation by an Obama-era program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that President Trump moved last year to rescind.

The showdown would come at a critical time for House Republicans, ahead of what is expected to be a difficult midterm election. A vote on legislation deemed “amnesty” by the party’s right flank could demoralize conservative voters and depress Republican turnout in November. But the failure of moderates to win support for the Dreamers could harm their re-election chances in the districts most targeted by the Democrats.

“I think this was a very useful exercise, and I would have preferred that this occur six months ago,” one of those targeted members, Representative Leonard Lance, Republican of New Jersey, said after the conference meeting. Mr. Lance is among nearly two dozen Republican lawmakers who have signed the discharge petition.

Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, told reporters after the meeting that the petition would not move ahead as Republicans tried to negotiate a compromise bill.

“The discharge petition actually did put pressure to get us to where we are today,” Mr. McCaul said. “But I don’t think there’s any will in the Congress to move forward with the discharge petition.”

But a senior House Republican leadership aide conceded that in all likelihood, the petition would reach the required number of signatures. Another Republican aide said moderate members would continue negotiating with party leaders and the conservative House Freedom Caucus, while keeping the discharge petition as a backstop.

“I guess we’re at the ‘family meeting’ stage, still,” said Representative Mark Amodei, Republican of Nevada, who has signed the petition, after the closed-door gathering. “If there’s three or more people in that room that go, ‘O.K., I love family meetings, but I also want to be able to vote,’ then we’ll see.”

Coming up with a compromise immigration bill in a matter of days is a tall order. The Senate has already shown the difficulty of trying to find a solution for DACA, rejecting a series of measures in February.

House Republicans are particularly divided over whether to provide young undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship, who would be eligible for such a path and the mechanics of getting to citizenship if legislation provided the path.

“Ultimately, what it comes down to is the citizenship question and how you deal with that,” said Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus.

Mr. Denham said a proposal had been put forth that would create a special visa that would be available to DACA recipients, but he said he was waiting to see that plan in writing. And Republican leaders face a challenge in selling any kind of compromise across their conference, where views on immigration vary considerably.

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa and an immigration hard-liner, warned: “It’s just surrealistic that I’m standing in here listening to member after member talk about everything except what they’re doing, which is destroying rule of law. When you reward lawbreakers, you’re destroying the rule of law.”

On the flip side, lawmakers eager to secure protections for Dreamers are having their patience tested.

“Folks are fixed in their position, and it’s just a mystery still whether we will be able to get the signatures or they will bring some proposals to the floor,” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida, who has signed the discharge petition. “Some of us are really frustrated to not be able to have a vote.”

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said the prospects of gaining three more signatories was growing frustrating.

“We’re three signatures away, but it’s like the last two minutes of a football game: It just goes on forever,” she said.

As Immigration Facilities Fill Up, Detainees Are Being Transferred to Federal Prisons

More than 1,600 people arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border, including parents who have been separated from their children, are being transferred to federal prisons, U.S. immigration authorities confirmed Thursday. They said they’re running out of room at their own facilities amid President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

The move drew condemnation from activists who said the detainees may have legitimate claims to asylum and don’t deserve to be held in federal prisons.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a letter Thursday night seeking more information from the Justice Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after learning that ICE had transferred dozens of mothers who had been separated from their children to the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac.

“The Trump Administration’s new family separation policy is inflicting intentional, gratuitous, and permanent trauma on young children who have done nothing wrong and on parents who often have valid claims for refugee or asylum status,” they wrote.

Historically, immigrants without serious criminal records were released from custody while they pursued asylum or refugee status. The Trump administration has ended that policy.

In an emailed statement, ICE spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell said that due to a surge in illegal border crossings and the Justice Department’s “zero-tolerance” policy — designed to discourage illegal border crossings — the agency needed to acquire access to more than 1,600 beds in Bureau of Prisons Facilities. The agency said those include 1,000 beds in Victorville, California; 209 beds in SeaTac; 230 beds in La Tuna, Texas; 230 beds in Sheridan, Oregon; and 102 beds in Phoenix.

“The use of BOP facilities is intended to be a temporary measure until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities or until the surge in illegal border crossings subsides,” the statement said.

The letter from Inslee and Ferguson followed a report from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project earlier Thursday that as many as 120 asylum seekers had been transferred to the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac.

The organization said that on Wednesday it spoke with two of the women, who arrived at the southern border with their young daughters in mid-May seeking asylum. Both were separated from their children shortly after they were apprehended by Border Patrol. Instead of being returned to their children after being sentenced to time served for the misdemeanor of unlawful entry, they were transferred to Washington state while they seek asylum, the organization said.

“There is simply no moral or legal justification for separating children from their parents in this draconian effort seeking to deter other immigrants,” Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said in a written statement. “This is not only unlawful, but also contrary to basic human decency.”

Inslee and Ferguson said they wanted more information about when the women would be released and when they can expect to see their children again, as well as where the children are and who is caring for them

The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking a court injunction to stop immigration authorities from separating parents from their young children.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in California ruled that a case involving two mothers could go forward, saying that if the policy was being carried out as described in the lawsuit, it is “brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency.” The judge said he would issue a separate ruling on whether to expand the lawsuit to apply to all parents and children who are split up by border authorities.

House Republicans fail to reach deal on immigration reform

Congressional Republicans left a Capitol Hill meeting on Thursday no closer to a deal on immigration reform.

In a meeting held in an effort to forge common ground between moderates concerned about protecting the 700,000 undocumented immigrants popularly known as Dreamers and hardliners eager to uphold Donald Trump’s anti-immigration pledges, no compromise was reached. However, lawmakers left the meeting feeling more optimistic about efforts for legislation before the midterm elections.

The meeting was sparked by an effort by a growing group of Republicans to force a vote, via a mechanism known as a discharge petition. This would allow a bill to be brought directly to the floor if 218 members of Congress sign it. So far, a discharge petition on immigration has attracted 215 signatures, including 23 Republicans and all but one congressional Democrat. If successful, the petition would initiate a series of votes on immigration proposals including one that would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

This has aroused fierce opposition from conservatives, who see such a vote as not only a betrayal of Trump’s agenda but electoral suicide in the midterms.

RJ Hauman, the government relations director for Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington thinktank that advocates stricter control over legal and illegal immigration, said the discharge petition was a futile effort that imperiled the Republican party’s chances of keeping its majority control over Congress in November.

“You have a pro-amnesty minority of the majority essentially making the rest of the GOP walk the plank on an issue that is almost certainly not going anywhere,” Hauman said.

He noted that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, had said he would bring up immigration legislation only if the president will sign it – and Trump has repeatedly said that he will veto any bill that does not fund a wall along the US-Mexico border – an election pledge that is a non-starter for many Democrats.

He said the discharge petition could squander Republicans’ leverage in future negotiations, especially if the supreme court upholds Trump’s decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, which defers deportation for eligible undocumented youth in the US, known as Dreamers.

“We fully believe that the supreme court will rule in favor of the administration next year, and then the Daca program will start to be officially wound down,” he said. “That’s when the Democrats will come to the table and they will certainly be willing to make some concessions then.”

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, the House speaker, Paul Ryan, said the goal was “to get things done and avoid a discharge petition”. He warned a discharge petition would not result in any law signed by Trump, but he described “very productive conservations” occurring among House Republicans.

Congressman Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican who has been one of the leaders of the discharge petition effort, said on Twitter after the meeting, “I don’t think it could have gone any better. Some questions but a lot of consensus. Our country deserves meaningful action on #immigration now. For too long politicians have used this issue for personal political gain. Enough.”

The intra-party schism over immigration between moderates and hardline immigration hawks has been building for years, said Al Cardenas, a former president of the American Conservative Union, who recalled an effort by George W Bush to pass reform that would have provided legal status and a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country unlawfully.

Obstruction from hardline conservatives has rendered the issue politically perilous, Cardenas said, in that the debate has narrowed to focus on only a small population of sympathetic young immigrants. And even then Congress cannot find common ground.

“The lift seems minimal and the personal consequences so severe that I can’t for the life of me figure out why congressmen and women can shrug their shoulders and think that this is an issue that can wait,” he said.

Cardenas noted some irony in the leadership’s opposition to passing legislation that Trump won’t sign.

“The House passed over 50 healthcare bills knowing that President Obama would veto them but that didn’t stop them from trying,” he said.

And, Cardenas added, lawmakers should know better than to predict how Trump will respond.

“The president has spoken out of both sides of his mouth on the issue,” he said. “It’s possible he could surprise us.”

Man delivers pizza to a military base and was turned in to immigration officials

Lawmakers in Brooklyn are demanding answers after a pizza delivery man was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when he tried to deliver an order to the Fort Hamilton military base in Brooklyn.

The incident took place on June 1 around 11 a.m., according to Brooklyn councilman Justin Brannan, who represents the district where Fort Hamilton is located. Brannan said some kind of confrontation happened between Pablo Villavicencio, the pizza store employee, and officials on the base.

“It wasn’t his first time delivering a pizza there,” Brannan explained. “In the past he had entered the base with his New York City ID.”

When Villavicencio arrived he was directed to the Visitor Control Center to get a daily pass, according to a statement sent to ABC News by the Fort Hamilton base.

He signed a waiver permitting a background check, and officials were notified that an active ICE warrant was on his file, the statement said.

Villavicencio was then turned over to ICE and is reportedly being held in New Jersey.

“DOD installation commanders are authorized to take reasonably necessary and lawful measures to maintain law and order and protect installation personnel and property,” Fort Hamilton spokeswoman Cathy SantoPierto said in a statement.

Brannan and borough president Eric Adams said they are working with Villavicencio’s family to figure out exactly what happened.

“The arrest of Pablo with a municipal ID is sending shockwaves throughout the immigrant community,” Adams told reporters at a press conference. “It was alright to take his pizza but it was also alright to put him in prison.”

“Is our city, state and nation any safer today because they took a pizza delivery guy off the street?” added Brannan.

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