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Republican immigration bill faces likely defeat in US congress

The issue has exposed deep divisions with the Republican party.

A far-reaching Republican immigration bill appears to be heading for rejection in the US congress, a defeat that would deliver a telling blow against the leaders of a divided party.

The party’s representatives are considering Plan B: Passing legislation by the week’s end curbing the Trump administration’s contentious separating of migrant families.

After months of trying to bridge the chasm between moderates and conservatives and two postponed votes, top Republicans are braced for a showdown in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

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Federal agents stand at the main gate at the port-of-entry along the international border in Fabens, Texas (AP)

Speaker Paul Ryan has labelled the legislation “a great consensus bill” and tried putting the best face on the likely outcome.

He told reporters: “What we have here is the seeds of consensus that will be gotten to, hopefully now but if not, later.”

The vote caps months of futile Republican party efforts to pass wide-ranging legislation on an issue that could affect scores of congressional races in this autumn’s contest for house and perhaps senate control.

The US senate rejected three proposals in February, including one reflecting President Donald Trump’s hard-line policies and two bipartisan plans.

Democrats and centrist Republicans from swing districts say the GOP could suffer because the party, steered by Mr Trump’s anti-immigrant harangues, could be alienating pivotal moderate voters.

However, conservatives relish such tough stances. And rather than achieving middle ground, leaders’ efforts have largely underscored how irreconcilably divided the Republicans are on the topic.

The Republican compromise would provide a shot at citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought illegally to the US as children.

It would provide 25 billion dollars (£19 billion) for Mr Trump to build his coveted border wall with Mexico, restrict family-based immigration and bar the American Homeland Security Department from taking migrant children from parents seized crossing into the country without authorisation.

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People gather outside the Millennium Biltmore Hotel to protest against US attorney general Jeff Sessions in Los Angeles (AP)

Leaders were adding 11th-hour provisions aimed at winning votes. One would make it easier for migrant farm workers to stay longer in the country, the other would gradually require companies to use an electronic database to verify their employees’ US citizenship.

But those amendments did not remove the key stumbling block – the reluctance by conservatives to back legislation helping people who arrived illegally to become citizens.

Many Republicans deride that plan as an amnesty for lawbreakers, a potential attack line their next primary challenger could wield against them.

Also unhelpful has been Mr Trump, who last week swerved from voicing support for the Republican immigration drive to denouncing it as a waste of time, since Democrats have the numbers in the closely divided senate to kill any legislation they oppose.

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Campaigners attempt to deliver toys to children housed in tents at a migrant facility on the Texas border (AP)

Even the evolving, separate measure focused sharply on preventing family separation is hurting the compromise bill’s prospects. It offers Republicans a chance to vote to address the high-profile problem without backing pieces of the broader measure that might anger conservatives.

Democrats solidly oppose the Republican bill as punitive.

The House rejected a more conservative bill last week clamping down on legal immigration and lacking a way for the young immigrants to become citizens.

With television and social media awash with images of crying young children torn from migrant families, Republicans want to pass a narrower measure addressing those separations should the broader bill fail.

Mr Trump has issued an executive order reversing his own family separation policy, but around 2,000 children remain removed from relatives. Republican senators have rallied behind legislation ending the 20-day court-imposed limit on detaining families – along with steps aimed at speeding their prosecutions — and House Republicans are considering something similar.

Many want to pass it by week’s end, when US congress starts a week-long July 4 recess.

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