WASHINGTON — With only 19 days until protection for “dreamers” expires, Congress is more divided than ever in reaching a bipartisan fix that satisfies the demands of Republicans, Democrats and President Donald Trump on immigration.
After a Senate vote on altering the nation’s immigration laws was postponed Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of “stalling,” despite Republicans’ professed desire to find a solution for dreamers, or the undocumented young people who were brought into the U.S. as children and now face possible deportation.
McConnell vowed to bring the issue to the Senate floor for debate and votes after repeatedly postponing action to make time to pass a major tax cut and approve a massive spending bill that keeps the government operating for another two years. Three days into the open-ended debate, Democrats have also twice blocked voting on a bill targeting sanctuary cities, which have harbored illegal immigrants. .
“Keeping Americans safe does not need to be a partisan issue,” McConnell said. “The longer my colleagues across the aisle refuse to come to the table … the lower the odds we can arrive at a legislative solution this week.”
Trump tweeted early Tuesday that this is the “last chance” lawmakers have to strike a deal on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump ordered ended effective March 5. That put enormous pressure on congressional leaders to act before the deadline, given the program’s widespread popularity.
However, two federal judges in New York and California have temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s effort to end DACA, allowing current recipients to renew their status. These rulings may delay the program’s expiration date but have no benefit for young illegal immigrants who didn’t apply for DACA protection.
Both McConnell and Trump expressed their support for a bill put forth earlier this week by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa which largely aligns with the White House’s immigration framework. The bill abides by Trump’s suggested “pillars” on immigration, which grant a DACA path toward citizenship for 1.8 million dreamers, allot $25 billion for increased border security — including construction of a wall along the southern border — give an end to the visa lottery and eliminate family-based migration.
“I am asking all senators, in both parties, to support the Grassley bill and to oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill these four pillars – that includes opposing any short-term ‘Band-Aid’ approach,” Trump said in a statement Tuesday.
Democratic opposition rides strong, though, as lawmakers have been largely critical of Trump’s framework. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the president is trying to pass legislation with a hard-line agenda that is extreme on legal immigration and unpopular among Democrats and some Republicans.
The four pillars offered by the White House are part of a very lopsided proposal, said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst for the bipartisan Migration Policy Institute. She said in an interview the demands grant legalization to less than a sixth of the U.S. unauthorized population, while making drastic cuts to the legal immigration system and major changes to the interior border and enforcement security.
Pierce doubts the Democrats will vote for a bill that includes heavy regulation on these matters, which the Republican lawmakers constantly stress in their agenda.
In the meantime, there were several reports of a bipartisan group of senators that will release a new immigration proposal later on Wednesday, which could potentially break the deadlock. According to reporting by The Hill, 20 lawmakers have been meeting in moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ office “for weeks” to work on this new bill, which only addresses undocumented immigrants and border security.
“If at the end of the week we’re unable to find a bill that can pass … the responsibility will fall on the president’s shoulders and those in this body who went along with it,” Schumer said.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group, said the Republican agenda on immigration is largely motivated by race and serves as an attempt to slow down demographic diversification in the United States. He also called Trump’s proposed wall “ridiculous” and said dreamers’ future should not be dependent on the president’s “mass deportation agenda.”
“[When Senate voting begins,] we will see who stands on the side of American values and who stands for a racist immigration system,” Sharry said.
Any immigration proposal will need 60 votes to pass the Senate and be sent on to the House. However, there is little bipartisanship in the House over immigration reform, and conservatives are likely to block any compromise that emerges from the Senate. Even if a bill were to pass both chambers of Congress, some senior White House administrators have said Trump plans to veto any legislation that fails to meet his four-pronged immigration framework demands.
McConnell said senators have until Friday to wrap up the debate, as a Congressional recess is scheduled for the week of Feb. 19.