Your Guide to the Two Immigration Reform Bills Getting Votes on Thursday

| JUN 21, 2018 | 4:10 PM

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The House is expected to vote on two immigration reform bills on Thursday, both designed to address key GOP concerns and both looking to offer some sort of compromise to Democrats.

Here's your rundown on what's in each bill and whether either stands a chance of getting passed by the House. (SPOILER: It's not looking good.)

Both bills address the main tenants of border reform advocated by the Trump administration, but the devil is in the details as they say, especially when it comes to compromises with the minority party.

The first bill, backed by House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), is seen as the more conservative of the two.

The other, negotiated by House leadership, moderates, and conservative House members, includes some concessions which (they hope) will secure the Democratic votes needed to pass the bill.

What They Have in Common

Both bills center on the “four pillars” of immigration policy championed by President Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers:

  • Providing increased funding for border security, including money to build the border wall
  • Fixing the DACA program, and providing legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. as children
  • Putting limits on “chain migration,” which allows immigrants to bring extended family members to the U.S. along with them
  • Ending the diversity visa lottery, which gives visas to random applicants based on the number of immigrants from a certain country that are already in the U.S., and instituting a merit-based visa system

But despite the similarities between the two bills, they both have some key differences related to how exactly they address each of the key elements of immigration policy.

And after the firestorm surrounding the Trump administration's “zero tolerance” policy on immigration, a growing factor for consideration is the measures (or lack thereof) to address the crisis of family separation on the border.

Border Security

Both bills provide hefty funding for Trump's border wall, something that'll be difficult for many Democrats to swallow.

  • The Goodlatte bill provides $30 billion to fund the border wall.
  • The House leadership bill provides $25 billion for the wall and other border security efforts.

DACA Reform

A fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is a major issue with bipartisan support. But neither bill grants the sweeping changes that many advocates have called for, and GOP lawmakers are wary about seeming soft on immigration by granting a pathway to citizenship for immigrants.

  • The Goodlatte bill offers a way for current DACA recipients, called “Dreamers,” to renew their legal status every three years, but there's no pathway to permanent citizenship for the 690,000 young immigrants currently enrolled in the program.
  • The House leadership bill grants legal status to an estimated 1.25 million immigrants in the U.S. eligible for DACA, even if they don't currently benefit from the program. They have to reapply every six years and some will have the possibility to obtain green cards or permanent legal status.

Family Migration

Trump has often bashed what he calls “chain migration” and many Republicans have called for big limits to be placed who is allowed to enter the country to join family members in the U.S.

  • The Goodlatte bill would prevent immigrants in the U.S. from bringing family members with them, except for the children of immigrants with permanent legal status.
  • The House leadership bill stops giving out visas to many adult relatives of immigrants in the U.S. and instead devotes those visas to “Dreamers” and the children of immigrants in some circumstances.

Diversity Lottery

Both bills attempt to change the current method of handing out visas from a random lottery to a system that takes into account education and employment backgrounds of potential immigrants.

  • The Goodlatte bill gets rid of the diversity visa lottery and instead puts some of those visas toward a visa system based on employment categories.
  • The House leadership bill also gets rid of it, instituting a merit-based system that seeks to grant visas to skilled workers and other specific groups of immigrants.

Migrant Family Separation

Even after Trump's executive order designed to stop families from being separated at the border amid a massive public outcry, the president has called for a legislative fix for the issue. Neither bill is expected to satisfy opponents of the administration's “zero tolerance” policy.

  • The Goodlatte bill doesn't provide a fix for the issue.
  • The House leadership bill allows children to be held in detention together with their parents while waiting for an immigration court ruling.

Trump has said he'd sign either bill. But as the debate over immigration reform heats up, GOP lawmakers are struggling to get the votes from Democrats needed to pass either measure.

Reports ahead of the Thursday afternoon votes suggest that both bills have a slim chance of passing, especially the more conservative Goodlatte bill.

But as Trump works to lobby skeptical Republicans and attack dissenting Democrats, many lawmakers are growing increasingly doubtful that efforts to get a majority vote will prove successful.

“I’m not optimistic about the two bills that will be on the floor today,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, one of the main groups negotiating the compromise bill. “I think at this point, the more conservative bill doesn’t get to 218. It’s still up in the air whether the more moderate bill gets to 218.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) bashed efforts to negotiate a compromise with Democrats, and predicted that neither bill stands a chance of passing.

“I think this is going to blow up,” he told MSNBC's Hallie Jackson on Thursday. “I think the bill's going to go down.”

Nevertheless, the two immigration bills being voted on today set the ground rules for immigration reform moving forward, and as both parties seek major changes to the status quo, future efforts will be judged by how they differ from Thursday's sweeping attempts.