White House working with senators on immigration limits

Story highlights

  • The bill is one of many outreach efforts on immigration, an official said
  • Trump acknowledged the political difficulties of immigration reform

Washington (CNN)The Trump administration is working with two senators on a bill that would restrict and revamp some of the legal avenues for immigrating to the United States, sources confirm to CNN, but the bill remains a long way from potential passage in Congress.

The bill from Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia was introduced in February but will be re-introduced with some changes, Cotton's office confirmed.
The original version of the bill cut back on what's referred to as "chain migration," ways of immigrating to the United States that are based on family or not based on skills. The bill would limit the types of family members of immigrants that can also be brought to the US to primarily spouses and minor children, would eliminate the international diversity visa lottery and limit the number of annual refugee admissions.
    An administration official characterized the discussions as one of many efforts to work with lawmakers on potential pieces of immigration reform. Politico was first to report the talks.
    The over-arching goal for the Cotton-Perdue bill, the official said, is to install a system where immigrants are allowed into the country based on their skills and contributions, as opposed to familial connections or a lottery.
    "The bottom line here is that the President believes we should have a merit-based system of immigration in this country," the official told CNN. "What the merit-based system would do is bring our immigration policy more in line with what's good for American workers and taxpayers, so that's the overarching goal, and that I'm sure is the driving force behind talks with Congress and these senators."
    The official acknowledged that it remains to be seen whether the White House goes all in to support a final version of the bill, which faces an uphill climb in Congress.
    "I think we're a long ways away," the official said.
    The President spoke about a desire for comprehensive immigration reform while flying to Paris Wednesday night as well.
    "What I'd like to do is a comprehensive immigration plan. But our country and political forces are not ready yet," Trump told reporters.
    Perdue and Cotton's offices both confirmed the senators continue to work on the "RAISE Act" but wouldn't elaborate on details.
    While a move to end chain migration was part of the ill-fated Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate but died in the House in 2013, that bill was loaded with other side deals that helped pave the way for passage.
    "To me it's more of almost a political discussion vs. actual enactment or trying to enact policy," said former Bush administration Homeland Security deputy James Norton, who now works as a strategist.
    Rosemary Jenks, the vice president and director of government relations for NumbersUSA, a group that advocates limited legal immigration and supports the RAISE Act, said her group stands ready to support it, she said, but still lacks a clear feel for where the administration wants to go.
    "(We're) feeling a little bit more optimistic about some of them and pushing forward that much harder because it appears there may be an opportunity here and if there is, we want to be ready for it," Jenks said.
    In addition to the difficulty of building a bill that works for the many constituencies represented in both parties, the Senate calendar has proven daunting for lawmakers this year, who are still struggling to pass an Obamacare repeal bill, need to extend government funding by the end of September, hope to pass tax reform and need to pass a defense authorization.
    A nasty fight over immigration reform could also scuttle efforts to pass government funding that includes money for Trump's border wall.
    "It has momentum in the sense that there are definitely people who have been working on immigration since day one," Norton said, "but I think in terms of active legislation I think it has a very difficult road for it to go down to become law."