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Congressional moderates propose border compromise

Supporters say the Dignidad Act has bipartisan potential

Rep. María Salazar, R-Fla. Getty Images/Photo by Alex Wong

Congressional moderates propose border compromise

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has made his position on border security legislation clear: He’s not holding his breath on any proposals coming from the Senate.

“We haven’t seen any bill text yet,” Johnson said at a news conference earlier this week. “We’ve been waiting two months now. It’s hard to make a judgment about something we haven’t seen. All we know is the reports and rumors that have been leaked and what’s suggested is not enough to secure the border. I have talked to former President Donald Trump about this issue at length and he understands that.”

In the meantime, the speaker says House Republicans have other, better plans.

As the Senate continues negotiations on a border bill behind closed doors, Johnson and other House Republicans are stressing their support for their own version of a border-security package, HR 2, which the House passed in May 2023. Among other provisions, the bill would expand construction on the border wall, shrink asylum eligibility, impose stiffer penalties for overstaying a visa, and expand the government’s deportation authority. To Democrats, many of those elements are nonstarters. But there’s a third faction of Republican moderates in the House who might change the debate.

Rep. María Salazar, R-Fla., thinks Republicans can go beyond HR2 to appeal to Democrats.

“I think a lot of our members are realizing now that whatever we do has to be bipartisan,” Salazar said earlier this month. “We’ve passed HR2, so let’s move forward. HR2—and what else? You put together both elements: what the Democrats and what the Republicans want. That’s what you call bipartisan.”

Salazar, along with a group of bipartisan legislators, has proposed the Dignidad Act as a starting point for compromise. The bill has 31 co-sponsors: nine Republicans and 22 Democrats.

Structurally, the bill resembles HR2 and includes many of the same provisions. Where it differs, however, is in the inclusion of concessions Democrats have sought for years: a pathway to citizenship for long-time undocumented immigrants, reforms to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and more.

In addition to being the sponsor of HR2, Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fla., also co-sponsors Salazar’s Dignidad Act. He prefers his bill. But when asked if the two were mutually exclusive, he said he wouldn’t rule it out at this time.

“Not necessarily. This is all a process. But you have to start with border security, border security, border security. Ultimately will we have to deal with other issues? Absolutely. But we have to start with securing the border,” Diaz-Balart said.

Rep. John Duarte, R-Calif., said many Republicans in Congress are looking to party leaders for direction on immigration.

“A lot of our Republican congressmen need it to come from Donald Trump,” Duarte said. “He’s going to be the presumptive leader of the party. I think unless we get President Trump on board there would be too many people in our party afraid to support it.”

Duarte, who is also a Dignidad Act co-sponsor and a proponent of negotiations with Democrats, said Johnson should coordinate with Trump.

“If he does support it I think it’s a very viable plan that would probably be to his advantage in the election. If Trump is telling Hispanic voters, ‘You elect me, I’ll finish the fence and the Dreamers are going to get green cards,’ it would swing a lot of congressional districts—mine in particular,” Duarte said. “Dreamers” are immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.

Rep. Chris Deluzio, a Democratic co-sponsor of the bill, doesn’t think compromise necessarily has to look like the Dignidad Act. But he’s confident a compromise is the only way to make progress on the border.

“[Congress] has tried for decades to have a combination of increased focus on orderly immigration system and pathway to permanent status for folks. I think it’s the only way it will work,” Deluzio said. “Whether under the current Republican leadership in the House, I don’t know. I think it remains the best and only path to a bipartisan deal in divided government.”

As House Republicans keep stressing the need for an immigration overhaul through, among other elements, the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Salazar of Florida worries that it’s only a matter of time before the impasse leads to an uglier reality at the southern border—one Congress will have no choice but to act on.

“At some point, reality is going to hit everyone on the head,” she said. “They’re going to see that the border is still open, and that crisis is unfortunately going to get worse. And that at some point both parties and everyone in Congress is going to realize we are the only legislators that proposed a bipartisan solution.”

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD reporter covering politics in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Patrick Henry College.

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