WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A breakaway group of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives defied their leaders on Wednesday in an attempt to force bipartisan action on legislation protecting young illegal ‘Dreamer’ immigrants from deportation.
The rare move, by lawmakers who largely represent districts with significant Hispanic populations or are supportive of pro-immigration business interests, could potentially break a congressional stalemate on immigration.
It could trigger a House debate in June or July on four bills designed to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has protected some 800,000 people brought illegally to the United States as children, mainly from Mexico and Central America.
President Donald Trump wants DACA to end and has moved to clamp down on both illegal and legal immigration. The issue is already prominent in some November congressional election campaigns.
The Republican rebels include moderates and lawmakers whose districts have big Hispanic populations, such as Carlos Curbelo of Florida, Will Hurd of Texas and Mike Coffman of Colorado. Several face tough re-election bids.
However, many conservative voters are squarely behind Trump’s get-tough stance on immigration, making it potentially risky for Republican lawmakers representing such districts to join any insurgency forcing legislative action on DACA.
Last September, Trump said he was terminating DACA, a program set up in 2012 by former Democratic President Barack Obama. Courts are reviewing the termination.
Moves in Congress to replace DACA with legislation allowing DACA participants, known as Dreamers, to live and work legally in the United States collapsed in the Senate in February.
The Republican rebels are attempting to get a majority of House members to sign a petition that would force debate and votes on four DACA replacement bills. The one getting the most votes and at least a majority of the House would go to the Senate.
House backers of the insurgency said that if they can pull off the legislative feat, enough senators would vote for a bipartisan bill to ensure passage. Trump has proven to be erratic and many lawmakers have given up predicting whether he would sign or veto legislation.
Republican Representative Jeff Denham, a leader of the new effort, told reporters he and other rebels would prevail. The number of Republicans involved so far totals 17 of 236 House Republicans. Assuming all 193 House Democrats sign on, Denham would need another eight Republicans to advance legislation.
The effort is supported by Republican-friendly business interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which encouraged the insurgency in a public statement.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has expressed support for doing some sort of “DACA fix” but has refused to stage votes on any bill.
Among the measures that could be debated is one that would protect Dreamers, while adding border security measures, although not the southwest border wall Trump demands.
Another would protect Dreamers from deportation and put them on a path to citizenship. A third would provide some protections, but would reduce legal immigration. A fourth bill would be one of Ryan’s choosing.
Reporting by Richard Cowan, Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Rosalba O'Brien