Senate negotiators declared Wednesday night that they had arrived at a bipartisan deal to save Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program beneficiaries from deportation, but there was no indication that the White House was willing to budge on the four “pillars” it wants to see in a DACA deal.
A similar showdown, but with less urgency expressed by the House speaker, was also taking shape in the lower chamber, where GOP leaders are pressing ahead with President Trump’s wish list while other Republicans press for a compromise that leaves out a couple administration pillars.
“This is one of the hardest issues Congress has had to grapple with in recent years,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Wednesday evening. “Each side has had to give a great deal, but we are closer than we have ever been to passing something in the Senate to help the DREAMers.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has declared fidelity to Trump’s plan, which has been enshrined in legislation presented by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), but the legislation would need several supporters from across the aisle to cross the 60-vote procedural threshold. And while the DACA deadline imposed by the president when he rescinded the program doesn’t roll around until March 5, McConnell has made clear he wants to move on to other legislative issues next week, immigration agreement or not.
“Some may not like it but REALITY is that Grassley/Cornyn is only DACA fix that can pass Senate+House+Trump,” Grassley tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “DREAMERS can help by telling Dems to get on board, stop wasting time & ACTUALLY SUPPORT A BILL THAT CAN BE SIGNED INTO LAW. Let’s deliver certainty that DACA kids deserve.”
In exchange for legal protection and a 12-year path to citizenship for about 800,000 DACA beneficiaries already registered in the program, as well as potentially a million more undocumented immigrants who could qualify, the administration wants to see border wall funding, the limitation of family reunification to spouses and minor children, and the elimination of the diversity visa lottery.
The White House and Department of Homeland Security came out strongly against one bipartisan Senate plan that only touches on the first two pillars: DACA and border security, though stopping short of funding a wall and instead requiring “a comprehensive border strategy, encompassing all known physical barriers, levees, technologies, tools, or other devices that can be used to achieve the above goals along with a justification, including a cost analysis for each linear mile of the border.”
In a lengthy press release, DHS objected to the bill from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) proposing legalization for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children any time before Dec. 31, 2013. “The McCain-Coons proposal grants citizenship to hundreds of thousands of additional illegal aliens that are not ‘DACA; recipients, including thousands who resided in the United States under Temporary Protected Status (TPS),” said the department, adding, “Under the bill, criminal grounds of ineligibility are subject to extremely broad waivers, such that even felonies can be waived. The waivers are so broad that they essentially exempt this class of aliens from criminal removal grounds that apply to other aliens. Contrary to current law — and even President Obama’s DACA policy — the expunged records cannot be considered.”
The McCain-Coons bill is based on the Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act introduced in the House by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Pete Aguilar (D-Texas).
Early Wednesday, Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D) proposed their own version that, like McCain-Coons, leaves out the administration’s highly desired visa lottery and family reunification changes. Their amendment includes $25 billion in appropriated funds for border security measures, including the wall, and a 12-year pathway to citizenship for those qualified for DACA. Bennet called the measure “a reasonable solution to break through Washington gridlock and provide a compromise for DREAMers.”
A group of 16 bipartisan senators, including Coons and Gardner, on Wednesday night unveiled an amendment to extend citizenship after 12 years, with a potential two-year credit for time in the DACA program, to undocumented immigrants brought to the country illegally as children who were under age 38 on June 15, 2012. New DREAMer citizens would not be able to sponsor their parents for citizenship.
The agreement allocates $25 billion in border security funding over the next decade on the condition that DHS give detailed reports to Congress about its security plan; each year’s funding would be released once the DHS secretary certifies that at least 75 percent of goals for the previous year were accomplished.
The bill also tells the DHS secretary to prioritize immigration enforcement by those who “have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, three or more misdemeanors; are a threat to national security or public safety; or are unlawfully present and arrived in the U.S. after June 30, 2018.”
The lead sponsors of the compromise are Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Angus King (I-Maine). “Following the reopening of the government last month, members of our Common Sense Coalition saw that immigration was beginning to fracture along partisan lines,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who led the negotiating group. “We met continuously so that senators could discuss this important issue and reach consensus.”
Over in the House, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) are shepherding legislation that follows the White House guidelines.
“The president did a very good job of putting a very sincere offer on the table,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. “And that sincere offer that he put on the table should be the framework through which we come together to find a solution… We’ll see what the Senate does this week.”
Asked if the House will vote before the March 5 deadline, Ryan replied, “Look, we think this deadline’s an important deadline. Obviously, it’s not as important as it was before, given the court rulings.”
“But I think this place works better with deadlines, and we want to operate on deadlines,” he added. “We clearly need to address this issue in March. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Trump weighed in with a statement late Wednesday: “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,” he said. “…At the same time, I remain encouraged by developments in the House toward advancing legislation from Chairmen Goodlatte and McCaul that also enshrines our four pillars.”