By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pressure grew in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday to debate legislation protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation, in a challenge to President Donald Trump, who has declared as "dead" an existing program allowing them to legally study and work in the United States.
A bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers scheduled a press conference on Wednesday to discuss their plans to force debate in the full House on a few different proposals for helping the estimated 800,000 immigrants.
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They are expected to announce that they have more than 218 House members on board with moving ahead with a bipartisan bill.
That is the minimum number needed in the 435-member House to pass bills.
For years, Republicans have been deeply divided on immigration legislation, despite polling that shows a significant majority of voters want to help young immigrants who crossed into the United States illegally through no fault of their own.
A House Democratic aide with knowledge of the maneuverings said an announcement of the supporters was aimed at pressuring House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, to move to either bring such legislation to the House floor or to intensify high-level negotiations on crafting a new compromise bill.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong, said in an emailed statement, "We continue to work to find the support for a solution that addresses both border security and DACA."
DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama, giving temporary legal status to immigrants brought illegally into the United States by their parents or other relatives when they were children.
In September, Trump announced he was ending the program, effective March 5. But a court has ordered the program to continue for existing beneficiaries until legal challenges to its termination are resolved.
Strong added that Republicans already have made "good-faith offers" to protect the young immigrants. Those offers, which included significant reductions in legal immigration that are being sought by the Trump administration, were rejected by Democrats.
Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said that a bipartisan bill unveiled in January now has "over 218 votes. ... I think it’s going to have significantly over" that number.
If Ryan were to refuse to bring such legislation to the floor, the bill's supporters could employ a rarely used procedure to force action, if they have at least 218 backers.
Under one strategy being weighed, the House could debate the bipartisan bill, along with two or three other alternatives. A similar debate played out in the Senate last February, with all the measures failing to win enough votes to advance.
(Reporting By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft)