By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, in a bid to settle a divisive election-year fight among his fellow Republicans, will bring two competing immigration bills to the House floor next week that are aimed at protecting illegal “Dreamer” immigrants from deportation.
The measures, said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong, will “resolve the border security and immigration issues” that have been at the center of a dispute between centrist and conservative Republicans.
Strong did not provide details of those bills and it was not clear whether either would gain enough support for passage in the Republican-controlled House.
Representative Mark Meadows, the leader of a hard-right group of House Republicans, told reporters late on Tuesday that one of the bills would provide temporary protections for Dreamers – undocumented immigrants brought into the United States when they were children.
That measure, which the Trump administration has expressed some support for, has been advanced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte.
It would also impose tough new limits on legal immigration and bolster border security. There has been widespread skepticism it can pass the House.
In setting this course, Ryan has tried to diffuse a challenge by centrist Republicans who threatened to use a rarely-used “discharge petition” procedure to force House votes on a more popular bipartisan bill that is supported by some Republicans and all Democrats.
Meadows said that he has not yet seen any text of the second bill, indicating that it is still under negotiation.
Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo, a leader of the centrist Republicans, said that the group will keep pressing for its goals if the legislation being crafted does not satisfy them.
Supporters of the discharge petition were only two short of the 218 signatures needed to force the full House to confront the issue by debating up to four competing bills, including the bipartisan one.
Ryan has been loathe to allow a vote on the latter. Passage of it would mark a major victory for opposition Democrats.
Republicans have been battling among themselves over President Donald Trump’s demand for building a wall on the southwest border with Mexico, the type of protections to be provided to young Dreamers who were brought to the country illegally as children, and conservative demands for clamping down on new immigration.
It is not clear whether any Democrats will support either bill if they come to a vote next week. Even if Ryan manages to get one of the bills passed, it could be rebuffed by Senate Democrats whose support is needed for passage in that chamber.
House aides familiar with the months-long effort to dislodge immigration legislation from a conservative blockade acknowledged that Democrats have not been part of the consultations.
‘NOT GOING TO FLY’
Some prominent Republicans viewed Ryan’s gambit skeptically.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a central figure in efforts to protect Dreamers now that Trump wants to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that temporarily protects them from deportation, scoffed at the idea of the House moving ahead with a Republican-only bill.
He added: “If it’s anything like what was part of the Goodlatte bill, that’s just not going to fly.”
On another front, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions took actions on Monday that potentially could exclude foreigners seeking asylum because of gang attacks, domestic abuse and other violence.
The Trump administration has also ramped up the practice in recent months of separating immigrant children and parents who cross U.S. borders without visas and holding them in detention centers.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat, introduced legislation last week to end the practice. At a news conference on Tuesday, Feinstein acknowledged she did not have any Republican backers.
“Children are terrified, parents are heartbroken and families are being destroyed,” Feinstein said.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Peter Cooney)