House GOP leaders kick around various immigration proposals

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders are trying to craft legislation on immigration issues that have stalled in Congress for years, the outcome of a truce between the party's conservative and moderate factions.

The measure is a work in progress, though leaders hope to unveil it soon. So far, it's hewing close enough to President Donald Trump's immigration agenda that Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., says the president is supportive of the approach.

Some of the proposals being considered, according to public comments by lawmakers and information from GOP aides who discussed the private talks on condition of anonymity:

NEW MERIT-BASED VISA CATEGORY

Republicans are considering a new merit-based visa category that would assign points to applicants based on various factors, such as education or military service. It would be available to the young "Dreamer" immigrants as well as other immigrants.

The Dreamers number up to 1.8 million young people living in the U.S. illegally since childhood. Some 700,000 participate in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Those who don't participate in the program never signed up for DACA or didn't qualify at the time because of their age or other factors, including when they arrived in the U.S.

The new merit-based visas would be valid for several years, and if immigrants remain in good standing they could eventually gain permanent legal status through a green card. As in the current system, those with green cards can become eligible to apply for citizenship. The path would take about 10 years, one GOP aide said.

NEW RESTRICTIONS ON LEGAL IMMIGRATION

To make up for the increased number of immigrants through the new merit system, there would be new restrictions on legal immigration. Among them would be an end to the diversity visa lottery, which now allows some 50,000 immigrants a year to gain legal status, many of them coming from nations in Africa. There would also be new limits on visas for extended family members, including siblings and adult children of new immigrants, the aide said.

TOTAL FUNDING FOR BORDER WALL

The full $25 billion Trump has sought for the border wall with Mexico, with all then money provided up front, rather than doled out over several years.

PREVENTING FAMILY SEPARATIONS AT BORDER

Lawmakers are considering ways to prevent family separations, which have increased during the Trump administration. It is unclear what approach the legislation will take.

One idea is to revisit longstanding rules under the so-called Flores agreement, a decades-old legal settlement that prevents children who enter the country illegally from being held in custody for long periods. Critics say that leaves few options but to separate families as parents are being detained. The White House wants to change the rules. But advocates for immigrants have warned against simply allowing longer detentions for the kids.

OTHER PROPOSALS

A range of other ideas remain in flux including provisions that would make it easier to deport immigrants who commit crimes and to end to the practice of releasing those immigrants who are here illegally but commit smaller or misdemeanor offenses.

Separately, lawmakers are beginning to craft legislation that would deal with immigrant agricultural workers as well as stiffer requirements for workplaces to comply with the employment verification system. That bill is not expected until July.

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Follow Mascaro on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LisaMascaro and Fram at https://twitter.com/asfram

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