House leaders will try to sway the reluctant business community Friday to support what may be a last-ditch effort to negotiate an immigration deal this year that would protect so-called Dreamers.
Representatives of leading business groups will meet with Republican leaders to discuss whether a reduction in the number of legal immigrants should be part of a broader package, according to two people involved in the business community's immigration negotiations.
The business groups have long supported a plan introduced by centrist Republicans that would protect young immigrants brought into the United States as children. But they opposed conservative efforts to slash legal immigration.
The meeting comes after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to House leaders opposing a cut in legal immigration that has been pushed by the White House and some Republicans.
"It is long past time to protect the Dreamers and secure our border.... the Chamber urges the House to reject significant cuts to legal immigration," the letter says.
Congress has for months tried to craft an immigration package after President Donald Trump announced he would halt a program that gave Dreamers renewable work permits while vowing to protect them.
The White House pushed a plan that would have offered 1.8 million young immigrants a chance at citizenship but would have bolstered border security and ended the diversity lottery program that lets immigrants be awarded green cards. The young immigrants would receive legalization immediately and then a shot at citizenship after 10 to 12 years.
Friday’s meeting comes as House Republican immigration negotiators consider a possible "special visa" for Dreamers that would not require them to return to their home countries but would allow them to apply for citizenship, according to Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., a leader of the GOP reformers.
The special visa, termed a "bridge," is the latest development in ongoing talks between House Republicans aimed at breaking a deadlock over how to proceed on immigration reform.
Other visas, such as the diversity visa lottery program and the family-based migration program, could be limited as part of any deal, Denham said.
Under the plan, the special visa could require that Dreamers show proof of employment, military service or enrollment in school. Denham said he's waiting for details from the conservative House Freedom Caucus on additional requirements and limits to other visas have been put down in writing.
"We want to see where those numbers come from, and how many Dreamers would be included," Denham said.
"We'd be combining those visas into one new visa program," he added.
A big roadblock to any deal has been whether Dreamers, people who were brought into the country illegally as children, should get a special pathway to citizenship.
Denham and other House Republicans pushing for a vote on immigration have negotiated for weeks with GOP leadership and the Freedom Caucus.
Both sides have referred to the special visa as a "bridge" to citizenship for Dreamers. Denham implied Thursday that the Freedom Caucus offered the compromise in meetings, but Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and other members of the caucus would not confirm or deny authorship.
"The negotiations have reached a critical stage," Meadows said. "To talk specifics draws too many lines in the sand, I think."
No deal exists in writing yet, both parties said.
If no immigration deal is reached before Tuesday, Denham said he will push ahead with his effort to force an immigration vote without leadership approval.
That effort — which needs 218 signatures to work and had 215 as of Thursday afternoon — would bring four immigration bills to the floor, which include a special pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and increased border security.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, the largest GOP House caucus, said the immigration deal has a good chance of moving forward.
"I’ve been around here for three and a half years, I can tell when something is either trending the right direction, the wrong direction or it’s just pretend," Walker said. "I really think this is still trending the right direction."