As the House of Representatives prepares for a vote on an ill-fated compromise immigration measure, House Speaker Paul Ryan would not say when the House could vote on a standalone measure to keep immigrant families together.
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"Obviously we address this in the bill we're bringing to the floor Wednesday, we've made it extremely clear. We want to keep families together and we want to secure the border and enforce our laws," he said at a House Republican news conference.
The bill heading to the floor Wednesday includes language that would lift the 20-day cap on the detaining of minors, which would theoretically allow the government to detain children with their parents for longer periods of time.
The bill, which also includes $25 billion in border security funding for the wall, a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and would allow the government to draw from a $7 billion fund for new detention facilities, is expected to fail in the House, with Democrats opposing the bill and many conservatives wary of approving "amnesty."
President Donald Trump visited House Republicans last week to give them a pep talk in advance of the votes – both originally scheduled for last week – but many lawmakers said they left the meeting unsure of what he really wanted them to pass.
There had been last-minute negotiations through the weekend to add an amendment to require the use of the E-Verify system by American companies and create a new program for foreign farm industry workers, but by Tuesday afternoon it appeared that those provisions wouldn’t be added to the bill Wednesday.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a member of House GOP leadership, is also quietly working on a standalone proposal that the House could take up following the immigration vote but it's unclear whether the House will vote on the bill before adjourning for the July 4th recess.
When pressed on whether he would support alternatives to family detention, such as expanding the use of ankle monitors among immigrants released from federal custody, Ryan didn't directly answer, and accused Democrats of supporting lax border security.
"Imagine if we do what the Democrats are suggesting which is to tell the world you can just come to this country we're not going to have closed borders," he said.
As the House works on its own immigration strategy, a small bipartisan group of senators is working together on its own narrow compromise bill to address family separations, but they too are unlikely to have a bill before the July 4th recess, even as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped they could “get it done” by the end of this week.
The small group is made up of unlikely bedfellows: for Republicans, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who both introduced bills to increase the number of immigration judges and require that families are kept together during their entire legal proceedings.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Dick Durbin, D-Il., are representing Democrats’ interest. Feinstein introduced a bill requiring that families stay together but doesn’t specify the restrictions on their movement, which Republicans have said could mean a return to “catch and release.”
But according to participants on both sides, negotiations are continuing apace.
“We’re getting some paper together – a lot of good mechanical discussion,” Tillis said. He added that he expects they will continue to negotiate over the recess.
Feinstein said that the senators will be getting some of their cues from whatever happens in the House over the next few days, but expressed optimism about the upper chamber’s discussions.
“I think we have a good sense of everybody's thinking. There are some concepts which I think breach partisan divides, which are good,” she said.
Republicans also diverged with Trump over the issue of adding immigration judges to more quickly adjudicate asylum cases, an idea which the president mocked during a campaign rally Monday night.
"They came to me three days ago, 'sir, we would like you to sign this order.' What is the order? We need 5,000 judges on the border. I said what other country has judges? I said how many do we have now? They didn't even know," he said at a rally for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said he did not share the president’s dismissive attitude towards immigration judges.
“Obviously, I have a different point of view,” the Iowa Republican said, adding that he supports the Tillis amendment which recognizes “the need for increasing the number of immigration judges so we can process these people and keep them out of limbo.”