Senate raises doubts over meeting immigration bill deadline
The Senate’s chief team of bipartisan negotiations on immigration struggled Thursday to make headway, with some members raising doubts about the group’s ability to produce legislation in time for votes next week.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said producing a bill in time would be like pulling “a rabbit out of a hat.”
The proposals being kicked around include matching President Trump’s offer of a path to citizenship for 1.8 million “Dreamers,” but appropriating only $4 billion for border security — less than a sixth of the $25 billion the president wants, according to sources.
The $25 billion would merely be authorized without an appropriation, which would not guarantee it will ever get spent on a wall or other security measures.
Despite floating these ideas within the bipartisan Common Sense Caucus, the group remains far from emerging with a deal, said a source.
Other senators involved in the effort were more confident about finishing legislation before the Senate takes up competing immigration bills in a freewheeling series of votes next week.
The next challenge would be to get the 60 votes needed to advance legislation in the chamber.
“We are working toward consensus but we still have the same core issues that we have to work through all the time. That’s the nature of it,” said Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, after a meeting of the group.
While there is broad agreement about protecting illegal immigrant “Dreamers” from deportation, the negotiations bog down on President Trump’s demand for limits on legal immigration and strong border security measures, including funds for a border wall.
The “Dreamers,” illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, lose on March 5 the protection from deportation that the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provided.
The White House said the president also is holding firm on the deadline.
“March 5 is the deadline,” said White House spokesman Raj Shah. “We fully expect Congress to take action on the president’s immigration reform framework.”
Mr. Trump had said he reserved the “right” to extend the date, but his top lieutenants, including his chief of staff and the heads of the Homeland Security and Justice departments, all said he doesn’t have that power.
The president in September set the deadline for the phaseout of the DACA deportation amnesty to fully kick in, and people were supposed to begin losing protections at a rate of about 1,000 per day.
A federal judge last month ruled Mr. Trump’s phase-out illegal and reinstated the DACA program, meaning the government is once again accepting and processing applications for the status.
There had been speculation that the reopening of the DACA process could puncture the March 5 deadline.
Lawmakers are scrambling to get legislation to the floor next week.
“Hopeful that we can pull a rabbit out of a hat,” said Mr. Graham.
Other ideas floated within the bipartisan group focus on Mr. Trump’s proposal to limit family-based chain migration and to end the Visa Diversity Lottery.
There is a proposal to eliminate siblings from chain migration, so that U.S. citizens could only sponsor spouses, children and parents. Mr. Trump wants to limit it to spouses and minor children.
Another proposal would end the visa lottery and set aside some of the 50,000 visas in the program for immigrants from sub-Sahara Africa.
Proponents argue that the targeting the visas would serve the goal of promoting immigration from underrepresented countries while eliminating the lottery.
Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat at the forefront of the talks, said he was confident the group would produce a bill that would garner 60 votes.
“The challenge is there are lots of other proposals that both the White House and others want,” he said.
The other bills on the floor could include one by Mr. Coons and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that put Dreamers on a citizenship path and ordered a study of border security with a 2021 due date.
Another proposal from Mr. Graham and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, also is likely to be in the mix, although Mr. Trump already has rejected it.
Mr. Graham said the proposal had been put in legislative text and was ready for the floor debate. Mr. Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, has said he is maneuvering to get the bill to the floor.
Mr. Coons has pushed for a deal that would satisfy two of the four pillars of Mr. Trump’s plan: protect Dreamers and fund border security.
The White House has not wavered from the four pillars, arguing that such reforms would prevent another Dreamers crisis in the future.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.
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