Senators Push Pared-Down Immigration Plan to Break Stalemate

Updated on
  • Plan doesn’t deal with two matters Trump says are essential
  • All sides say they want protection for so-called dreamers

Senate Fails to Advance Any Immigration Plans

A bipartisan Senate group tentatively agreed on a trimmed-down immigration proposal Wednesday that would allow citizenship for young undocumented immigrants and provide $25 billion for a border wall without meeting White House demands for cuts in family migration and an end to a diversity visa lottery.

“You’re down to what most Americans would cheer: strong border security and fair treatment of 1.8 million DACA population," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, referring to the young immigrants. "It would be a two-pillar bill.”

Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn said that proposal is among four that are likely to get the first votes, also including cracking down on sanctuary cities; a plan by Cornyn and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa that mirrors a plan by President Donald Trump, and a bipartisan plan by GOP Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Cornyn of Texas said he couldn’t say what the timing would be.

White House officials who briefed reporters Wednesday said any sort of fallback solution falling short of Trump’s demands would be insufficient.

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“We support Grassley’s bill, as none of the alternatives include the president’s immigration principles, and fail to deliver for the American people,” White House aide Kelly Sadler said in a statement released hours after the latest bipartisan plan emerged.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a chief architect of the compromise among about two dozen senators, said that despite likely opposition from the GOP-led House and the White House, a bipartisan Senate measure is most likely to get a final result.

“We obviously care about the House and the president’s position, but we’re the Senate and we need to get through this stage of the legislative process first,” she told reporters.

Graham said the proposal won’t address a 50,000 visa diversity lottery that Trump wants to end. The young immigrants wouldn’t be allowed to sponsor their parents to live in this country -- a standard that falls short of Trump’s effort to limit all family-based immigration to spouses and minor children.

All sides say they want protection from deportation for so-called dreamers -- undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children -- but so far they can’t agree on how to do it. Trump is seeking to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, as soon as next month. That program shielded the immigrants from deportation.

Border Wall

The president insists that any legislation to replace DACA must be combined with a U.S.-Mexico border wall, an end to a diversity visa lottery and restricting family-based immigration to spouses and minor children.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York have said they want to wrap up immigration legislation this week, though some senators have expressed doubts about whether the chamber can meet that deadline.

Graham and GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona said the Senate negotiating group will have bill language later Wednesday for members to review and decide whether to sign on.

“We can’t do everything that we want to do," Flake said. "But I do think it will get support of almost everybody, if not everybody” in the negotiating group.

Graham said, "The president’s going to get his border security money and we’re going to do a 1.8 million pathway forward. To break the chain, we’re going to say that the parent can’t be sponsored by the Dream Act child they brought in illegally."

‘Biggest Advancement’

"I think that would be the biggest advancement in immigration reform in 30 years," Graham said. He said adding other provisions to a bill would lose support from either Republicans or Democrats.

At the same time, the House may be taking a tougher line. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, said the leadership team is checking support levels for a hard-line immigration measure proposed by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, and Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican.

“The Goodlatte-McCaul bill is the bill that we’re going to be moving,” Scalise told reporters.

It would crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, include a mandatory e-verify system employers would use to ensure workers are documented, eliminate the diversity visa lottery, end immigration for extended family members, and authorize construction of a border wall. DACA recipients would be eligible only for three-year renewable legal status.

Not as Easy

“It’s not going to be as easy here in the House as it may be in the Senate,” said Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican. Conservatives are reluctant to even get behind Trump’s proposal because some see it as favoring dreamers for citizenship over other people who immigrated to the U.S. legally, he said. House Republicans won’t support the Senate’s new narrow bipartisan approach, Collins said.

Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican, said anything that is more generous than the Goodlatte bill is going to face a tough road in the House.

“When you start talking about special pathways, that’s where you drive conservatives off the cliff,” Walker said. He said only a few of about 170 members in the Republican Study Committee that he leads will support giving dreamers a way to become citizens that isn’t an option for immigrants who came here legally.

— With assistance by Justin Sink

(Updates with comment from White House and Collins beginning in fifth paragraph. Adds House lawmaker comments at end.)
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