The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Key GOP voice on immigration accuses bipartisan caucus of withholding a potential ‘dreamers’ compromise

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), right, stands with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) at a news conference Oct. 24 on Capitol Hill. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

A Republican lawmaker key to ongoing talks over how to resolve the legal status of “dreamers” is accusing leaders of a bipartisan House caucus of withholding details of a bipartisan compromise on immigration policy that could lead to a breakthrough in protracted negotiations of a major spending bill.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) said Monday that leaders of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus have waited more than two weeks to present a potential compromise to the group of about 40 House Democrats and House Republicans.

Curbelo, who represents parts of Miami and all of the Florida Keys, is one of the more moderate voices in his caucus and is leading talks with Democrats on immigration overhaul. He warned that potential compromises need to be revealed this week if Congress has any hope of passing legislation that would enact permanent legal protections for dreamers — immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, and also make changes in the nation’s security plan along the U.S.-Mexico border — key priorities for Democrats and Republicans, respectively.

“This week is pivotal,” Curbelo told a group of Latino congressional reporters in a joint interview.

He said that Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), leaders of the Problem Solvers Caucus, “have not presented the compromise to the entire caucus to try to get the votes necessary to proceed. Time is running out.”

In a joint statement, Reed and Gottheimer said: “We are working around the clock to find a dreamer-border security solution, including a meeting we just had this evening with members of the Problem Solvers Caucus and bipartisan leaders on immigration issues. We are more interested in getting it right than rushing to a reckless plan that fails to achieve a bipartisan solution for the American people.”

Curbelo said that a group of the caucus’s members — represented equally by Democrats and Republicans — have been working on a potential compromise for several months on a plan that would merge legal protections for eligible dreamers with changes in border security.

At least six bills to address the legal status of dreamers have been introduced this year. Most Democrats say that the Dream Act, a bipartisan bill that would grant legal protections to eligible dreamers, should be passed in conjunction with a year-end spending agreement. Dozens of Democrats in the House and Senate have said they will withhold support for the must-pass spending bill if the fate of dreamers isn’t addressed.

Curbelo is one of just two Republicans — Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is the other — who say they would join Democrats in voting against spending legislation if protections for dreamers aren’t enacted by the end of the year.

“I think this week it’s possible that we’ll see more,” he warned.

In response to such threats, House and Senate Republicans have presented several ideas for intensifying enforcement of immigration laws along the southern border and across the country. The plans would provide some funding for construction of a border wall and more money for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol to hire thousands of people. But changes to “interior enforcement” in exchange for granting legal status to dreamers are strongly opposed by most Democrats and many moderate Republicans.

Curbelo has introduced a slightly more conservative version of the Dream Act, but admitted to the reporters that he would vote for the Dream Act or more liberal proposals if they ever came up for a vote — an unlikely scenario in the GOP-controlled Congress.

Curbelo said that the compromise being withheld by Problem Solvers leaders has “no interior enforcement. On the legalization side, I moved significantly over to some Dream Act components. It’s a very good marriage. There’s no wall. There’s some ‘smart wall’ technology, some physical barriers, but very modest. In my view, this should have been out two weeks ago, three weeks ago.”

The outlines of the deal as described by Curbelo sound similar to a 2013 bipartisan bill that easily passed the Senate but was never considered by the House.

Asked why he thinks there’s a reluctance to unveil the compromise, Curbelo accused colleagues of playing political chicken.

“For me it’s easy, but I understand for many colleagues this is the closest they’ll ever be to passing a meaningful immigration bill,” he said.

“The reason we are where we are on immigration policy in this country is because nothing’s ever been good enough and each side has always wanted more. There’s that dynamic going on now, too,” Curbelo added.

He urged colleagues to take the leap.

“I always tell people, ‘Put yourself in the position of one of these young immigrants. Would they be happy with this?’ I can assure you that 99 percent of them would be thrilled with our product, if not all of them.”