House Republicans circulated a draft immigration bill Thursday that would give some protections to young undocumented immigrants in exchange for a massive increase in border security spending and a large-scale rollback of protections for asylum seekers and unaccompanied child migrants.
The legislation, which is not yet final, is a “compromise” bill between House Republican moderates and conservatives, and it is set for a vote next week along with a restrictionist-preferred proposal. It fulfills one of the objectives moderates pushed for, offering at least some undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children a new pathway to gain citizenship.
But the 293-page draft bill goes far beyond a fix for immigrants known as Dreamers, many of whom risk losing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections that were rescinded by President Donald Trump.
That means it will be up against hard-liners eager to frame any legal status for undocumented people as “amnesty” and immigrant rights activists who argue Dreamers shouldn’t be held hostage to Trump’s efforts to ramp up border enforcement and keep out more immigrants.
The draft legislation follows many of Trump’s demands, including eliminating the diversity visa lottery, limiting certain family-based visas, restricting access to asylum and making massive investments in the Department of Homeland Security.
It would require the U.S. Border Patrol to deploy no fewer than 26,370 agents by 2023 ― a tall order for an agency that has struggled in recent years with high levels of attrition and difficulty finding recruits to work in remote areas along the southern border. The Border Patrol employed 19,346 agents as of March, according to Mother Jones ― roughly 300 fewer than when Trump first took office.
The draft bill also sets aside $16.6 billion for Trump’s proposed “border wall” ― defined in less grandiose terms as “physical barriers,” including “reinforced fencing, border wall system, and levee walls.” The legislation sets aside another $6.8 billion for border security infrastructure, bringing the total investment to $23.4 billion, not including the additional personnel costs.
The bill would functionally institutionalize DACA by creating a temporary work authorization program, though its provisions are unlikely to satisfy the program’s champions. With the exception of those who serve in the military, the draft bill does not provide an automatic avenue to legal permanent residence or citizenship. Instead, DACA recipients would have one year to apply for a renewable six-year work authorization under the category of “contingent nonimmigrant” status.
In addition to an unspecified processing fee, the draft imposes a “border security fee” of $1,000 to apply. The proposal also bars DACA recipients from receiving health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act or applying for some tax benefits.
DACA recipients would, however, have the opportunity to apply for a limited number of immigrant visas using a system in which applicants earn points based on their education levels, work history and English proficiency. Those who successfully apply for the visas could then pursue permanent residency and apply for citizenship in subsequent years.
The draft legislation also has measures that would further restrict who can apply for asylum, expanding the administration’s wider push to keep tens of thousands of Central Americans from coming to the United States each year seeking entrance on humanitarian grounds. The draft narrows the criteria to apply for asylum and makes it easier for officers to turn people away at the border. It also eliminates many of the protections granted to unaccompanied minors from countries that do not border the U.S., which critics argue make it too difficult to quickly deport those kids.
In a proposal likely to cause diplomatic strife, the draft would give U.S. officials the authority to deem another nation a “safe third country” to which asylum-seekers can be deported rather than their homeland ― without an agreement with the country. This could allow the U.S. to leave asylum seekers in Mexico rather than allowing them into the country to seek relief here.
The draft bill also addresses family separations at the border, which have skyrocketed under the Trump administration’s policies to refer everyone caught crossing the border illegally for criminal prosecution. That means families apprehended at the border, who were previously often put in immigration proceedings, are being split up when the parents are instead jailed.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said earlier Thursday that he does not agree with separation of immigrant families at the border, although he blamed the harsh action on an unrelated court settlement rather than on the Trump administration, which has instituted the crackdown.
The draft legislation appears to limit protections based on that court settlement, the 1997 Flores Agreement, which bars long-term detention of children. This would allow the government to lock up kids for longer ― just with their parents rather than after being split from them.
The bill is unlikely to win much support, if any, from Democrats. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) condemned the draft bill on Thursday, calling it “a cruel codification of President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda” and “a cruel sham that does nothing to stop President Trump from continuing to separate parents and children seeking asylum at the border.”
The “compromise” bill may have a greater chance of passage than the more conservative bill by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that will also go up for a vote next week. But even if it passed the House, it would almost certainly die in the Senate, where a bill similarly based on Trump’s priorities received only 39 votes earlier this year.