Chain migration has become the chief sticking point in the Senate’s immigration negotiations, with Democrats and some Republicans looking for ways to keep most of the current system intact while not rewarding the very parents who brought “Dreamers” to the U.S. illegally.
With the Senate slated to begin an immigration debate on the floor next week, the contours of the fight took shape.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would bring a nonimmigration bill to the floor then let senators offer their immigration plans as amendments, battling it out to win 60 votes’ support. That would mean no one plan would have a leg up.
“While I, obviously, cannot guarantee any outcome, let alone supermajority support, I can ensure the process is fair to all sides,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is working on a bill that would enshrine President Trump’s four-pillar plan, while Sens. John McCain and Chris Coons have a bill that would couple a generous amnesty with promises of future border security. But it’s unclear what other legislation will be ready as alternatives.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said he’s still pushing for the proposal he and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, worked out to combine citizenship rights for more than 3 million Dreamers with a small down payment on Mr. Trump’s border wall and changes to the diversity visa lottery.
“That’s what I’m working on,” said Mr. Durbin.
The White House has deemed Graham-Durbin a “nonstarter,” and it was unclear whether the two men had even put their idea into legislative language.
The bipartisan Common Sense Caucus said it was narrowing in on a deal among its 20 to 30 members, though chain migration — one of the president’s key requirements — was a sticking point.
Mr. Trump has called for future immigrants to be able to only petition for spouses and minor children to be able to immigrate, which would eliminate current law’s allowances for parents, siblings and older children.
Democrats have called that everything from racism to an assault on the American dream, and have vowed to resist changes.
The issue is particularly thorny when it comes to Dreamers, who if they are granted citizenship would, under current law, be able to sponsor their parents — the very people who broke the law in the first place.
“We can’t allow parents to get an advantage just because they brought a child here illegally and get to the head of the line,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican involved in the talks. “We are trying to think ahead to where we don’t allow that to become a problem.”
Mr. Rounds said the group isn’t looking to fulfill all of Mr. Trump’s wish list, “but I think we can touch on the different pieces that are important.” He said there was “no question about it” that border wall funding would one part of the compromise.
The White House, though, wasn’t wavering from Mr. Trump’s framework, which would grant citizenship rights to 1.8 million Dreamers — less than Democrats want, but more than were protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation amnesty. In exchange, the framework called for a $25 billion trust fund for the border wall, changes to speed up deportations, an end to the diversity visa lottery, and limits to chain migration.
“We’ve laid out the four pillars that we want to see in immigration legislation,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Even as the Senate prepares for its debate, there’s no sense for how the House might approach the issue.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan said this week that he won’t bring a bill to the floor that Mr. Trump won’t sign. The only House proposal the White House has embraced, meanwhile, is from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, and Democrats have said they won’t support it.
A bipartisan group of House members wrote a letter to Mr. Ryan on Wednesday asking him to follow Mr. McConnell’s lead and create an open process, allowing anyone with a bill to offer it on the floor and whatever proposal emerges would win the debate.
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