Tentative GOP deal on visas for 'Dreamers' throws talks on immigration bill into chaos

News that Republican moderates in Congress have reached a tentative deal with the hard-right House Freedom Caucus on providing visas for so-called "Dreamers," or illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. at a young age, has thrown ongoing discussions on a comprehensive immigration bill into chaos.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., a leader of House GOP moderates on immigration, said Thursday that the Freedom Caucus had proposed allowing some 1.8 million Dreamers to obtain a new visa that would let them stay in the country for eight years.

"This was their offer to us and it's something we can agree to, but not until we see it on paper," Denham said. Later, the Freedom Caucus tweeted that the group "has not made an offer" but is engaged in talks focused on border security and the status of Dreamers.

The potential deal emerged the same day that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., held a lengthy meeting in the Capitol basement with the House GOP conference and said leaders would craft an attempt at compromise on the issue. 

Ryan has signaled he's hoping an accord will derail threats by GOP moderates to force a series of narrower House votes on immigration soon, using a method called a "discharge petition," that leaders say would lead to divisive debates on the House floor and damage the party's electoral prospects in November.

But multiple sources suggested to Fox News that news of the tentative deal was an effort to short-circuit immigration discussions and allow moderates to forge ahead with using the discharge petition next week.

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The White House and immigration hardliners in the House have insisted that any immigration bill also include full financing for a border wall with Mexico, end a lottery that distributes about 50,000 visas annually to countries with few U.S. immigrants, and limit the relatives whom legal immigrants can bring to the United States.

The showdown verges on a veritable civil war over immigration within the GOP, and Thursday's developments appear to have only heightened tensions. Sources told Fox News that Ryan's meeting Thursday left some rank-and-file House Republicans scratching their heads, with lawmakers wondering why proponents of some proposals weren’t allowed to present their plans and then take questions to explain their measures.

One source described the meeting to Fox News as a "dog and pony show."

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Conservatives have been adamant about not providing a "special" process carving out a unique way for Dreamers to gain legal status. 

Denham said that without a deal, the moderates' threat to force the House to consider four immigration bills remains in effect. He and Curbelo need two more GOP signatures on a petition that could force those votes, assuming all Democrats sign. If they get them by next Tuesday, the House would be on track to have those roll calls on June 25.

"We have a firm deadline of next Tuesday," Denham said. "We're prepared to have the final signatures if there's no agreement between now and then."

The moderates would force votes on bills ranging from liberal plans offering citizenship to Dreamers to a conservative proposal curbing legal immigration. But GOP leaders say those bills would never be able to get through the Senate, much less the White House, and become law.

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"This effort to get our members to come to a common ground is the best chance at law."

- Speaker of the House Paul Ryan

While Republicans acknowledged talks were underway, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., leader of the Freedom Caucus, said no immigration agreement has been reached and said the question of granting citizenship to Dreamers "has been the thorniest issue from the start." 

Denham said moderates would accept border security measures as part of the accord, including backing the full $25 billion Trump wants to construct his proposed wall with Mexico.

Ryan described leaders' effort to find compromise after a meeting of all House GOP lawmakers that didn't resolve the party's divisions. He said leaders would work toward a draft that resembles Trump's demands on the issue. 

"This effort to get our members to come to a common ground is the best chance at law," Ryan said.

Fox News' Chad Pergram, Adam Shaw and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Gregg Re is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @gregg_re.