Amid family separation saga, U.S. House votes down conservative immigration package

President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address on Jan. 30. 2018.
President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address on Jan. 30. 2018.
The White House

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House rejected a conservative immigration bill Thursday as moderate Republicans in the GOP-controlled chamber found its hard-line provisions too difficult to swallow.

Opponents of the bill swiftly killed it in a 193-231 vote on the House floor.

It was the first of two likely votes addressing the country’s complex immigration system. Members had expected to vote on a more moderate bill later on Thursday, but House GOP leadership abruptly pushed that vote back to Friday.

“I know that there are certain people that are trying to kill one or both of them, and I think that’s unfortunate because the American people want us to move forward,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan. “And we don’t always get everything we want — there’s never a perfect bill — but this vote today is between moving forward or keeping the status quo, and most people think the status quo sucks.”

Both bills are trying to address two politically charged issues: President Donald Trump’s call for increased border security measures including construction of a wall and the status of “Dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children and have lived here most of their lives. An Obama-era program granted thousands of Dreamers renewable, two-year work permits and protection from deportation. The program’s future has been in legal limbo since Trump announced plans to phase out the program last year.

But the recent, unfolding drama of the federal government separating immigrant children from their parents has colored the debate and impacted the measures up for debate Thursday. Each of the bills were altered to require that immigrant families stay together, even if the parents are prosecuted for crossing the border illegally. They would also both do away with a longstanding federal policy limiting custody of migrant children to 20 days in order to allow them to stay with their parents in incarceration over a longer period.

The biggest difference between the two bills is that the more conservative Goodlatte-McCaul bill – named for U.S. House Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Michael McCaul of Austin, both Republicans – does not allow for a pathway for citizenship. Furthermore, it installs only temporary protections for DACA participants, while increasing border enforcement.

A separate bill the House is poised to take up later Thursday does allow for a pathway to citzenship, albeit one that would take as long as 11 years. It would allocate $16 billion for a border wall.

Both bills also would do away with the visa lottery – a process that allows for a small fraction of immigration applicants to apply for a green card.

Neither bill has drawn Democratic support.

“I would be surprised if this stuff passes, because their approach was my way or the highway,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a San Antonio Democat, earlier in the day. “They didn’t work across the aisle at all, and they’ve been fighting amongst themselves about what should be in the bill. That’s just not the way you find success around here passing legislation through the House and the Senate.”

Heading into the first vote Thursday, Republicans admited they were highly uncertain on whether either bill would pass the House.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, voted against the Goodlatte bill and announced Thursday morning that he would oppose the compromise bill later in the day as well.

“I have long advocated for securing our nation’s borders and providing a permanent legislative fix for DACA recipients, but this proposal does not accomplish either goal,” Hurd said in a statement. “Furthermore, I cannot support a bill that fails to effectively address family separations at the border, establishes a long and winding road for DACA recipients at the expense of existing visa programs and doubles down on an expensive and ineffective 4th century border security tool that takes private property away from hundreds of Texans.”

“I’ve said time and time again that a long-term solution must be bipartisan, and I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle so that we can actually solve these problems once and for all,” Hurd added.

Hurd was part of the rebellious movement of House Republican that launched an arcane parliamentary maneuver to go around the chamber’s leadership and force an immigration vote on the House floor, which is what compelled House GOP leadership to move on the first of two measures Thursday.

If the compromise bill eventually passes out of the House, there is little chance that it will make it through the U.S. Senate intact.

Prior to the vote, McCaul, who chairs the Committee on Homeland Security, took to the House floor to frame his bill as a matter of national security.

“We know that international terrorists are trying to exploit our border,” he said. “This has been made clear from the materials found in [Osama] bin Laden’s compound and from propaganda outlets like Inspire Magazine. The 9/11 commission reportedly stated that predecessors to al-Qaeda had been exploiting weaknesses in our border security since the 1990s.”

McCaul added that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified in April “that ISIS has encouraged its followers to cross our southwest border given the loopholes that they are also aware of.”

In 2016, immigration experts told the Texas Tribune that the risk of terrorists crossing the Texas-Mexico border was relatively low.



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