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How a Miami Republican is leading a last-gasp shot at an immigration vote in Congress

Carlos Curbelo has led an arm-twisting effort over the past two weeks to get more Republicans on board with immigration reform.
U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo. Credit: Miami Herald
Published May 25, 2018

WASHINGTON — Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is leading a last-gasp shot to change the nation's immigration laws after years of inaction, and he's been furiously trying to rally dissatisfied Republicans over the past three weeks to bypass House Speaker Paul Ryan and force a series of votes on the House floor on immigration in the next few days..

Here's what you need to know.

On May 9, Curbelo introduced a petition to change the rules in the House of Representatives to allow votes on four immigration-related bills. If the petition is successful, the bill that receives the most support beyond a simple majority would pass the House and head to the Senate for consideration.

Within hours, 17 Republicans signed Curbelo's petition, including Miami Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Curbelo and California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham have led an arm-twisting effort over the past two weeks to get more Republicans on board. To get the petition approved in a chamber controlled by conservative Republicans who don't support his legislation, Curbelo needs the votes of 25 Republicans and every single Democrat in the House. On Thursday afternoon, they were two Republican signatures short of the 25 GOP votes they need.

The petition would force a vote on the following bills:

▪A conservative immigration bill embraced by the majority of House Republicans that doesn't have enough support to pass.

▪ A bill called the DREAM Act that would protect DACA recipients and DACA-eligible young people who didn't sign up for the program from deportation and give them a path to citizenship.

▪ A bill that gives DACA-eligible young people a path to citizenship while also including funding for border security.

▪ A fourth bill of Speaker Ryan's choosing.

Read more: Miami Republicans demand action on DACA

Curbelo and the other Republican petition signers do not generally support the conservative immigration bill and want to see a vote on the other bills.

The House of Representatives is headed home for Memorial Day, depriving Curbelo and his colleagues the opportunity for further arm-twisting in Washington for a week.

"The big mistake that a lot of members have made here in the name of being good team players is to sit back and trust leaders to solve their problems for them, and that is a major mistake," Curbelo said. "Leaders have to carry their own weight, they can't be babysitting and spoon-feeding people. You need to go out and get what you want."

Curbelo said a group of petition signers have met with Ryan and the conservative Freedom Caucus group in recent days to find a compromise, and that the petition drive will continue until it succeeds or a deal is announced.

But it could be tough for Curbelo to persuade the 25th Republican lawmaker to join. Whoever that is would be the theoretical tipping point for initiating an immigration debate in the House over the objections of conservative Republicans.

And due to a quirk in the rules, the four immigration bills can only receive votes twice in the coming months if the petition is successful. If a bill is successful, it heads to the U.S. Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

The Senate voted on a slew of immigration bills earlier this year, but each proposal fell short of the 60 votes required in the 100-member upper chamber. President Donald Trump's immigration framework received just 39 votes in the upper chamber earlier this year, and any immigration proposal in the Senate will need bipartisan support.

Beyond the policy, the petition has political implications for members like Curbelo and other signers like Mario Diaz-Balart who are facing competitive reelections back home in districts that could tilt toward Democrats. Curbelo has been attacked and supported by various immigration advocacy groups for his work on immigration over the past year, and initially Curbelo was hopeful that Trump's decision to end an Obama-era program that protected 690,000 young immigrants from deportation would force Congress to act.

But then the courts rendered Trump's deadline meaningless in March, forcing DACA recipients into legal limbo and putting the pressure on Congress to pass a law that protects them from potential deportation.

Curbelo responded by voting against a slew of short-term spending bills because an immigration solution wasn't imminent, but only one Republican, Ros-Lehtinen, joined him.

The petition has turned out to be far more successful, though it's not clear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow a vote on a bill passed by the House.

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