A bipartisan group of six senators has reached a deal that would shield Dreamers from deportation and make other changes to immigration laws and border security — but the framework has yet to win over the White House and other key players on Capitol Hill.
The package negotiated by the senators includes $2.7 billion for border security, which includes Trump’s $1.6 billion request for wall planning and construction, as well as $1.1 billion for security infrastructure and technology, three sources directly familiar with the negotiations confirmed to POLITICO.
The legislation would also include a 12-year pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, although people who have already been approved for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would have effectively a 10-year path because they would get two years of credit for holding DACA permits, sources said.
The plan would also delay green card holders from being able to sponsor their adult children until they obtain citizenship, according to three sources. That’s a population of about 26,000 people who would have to wait longer until they could be sponsored for permanent residency, one of the people said.
“President Trump called on Congress to solve the DACA challenge,” the senators said in a joint statement. “We have been working for four months and have reached an agreement in principle that addresses border security, the diversity visa lottery, chain migration/family reunification, and the Dream Act — the areas outlined by the President. We are now working to build support for that deal in Congress.”
The group includes Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
Lawmakers rushed to the White House for a hastily called meeting Thursday to present details of the Senate group’s plan to President Donald Trump, which he arranged after phone calls with Graham and Durbin earlier in the day. But White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said on Capitol Hill that the president has not yet signed off — and other influential Republicans said the negotiators had a long way to go.
“Not even a fig leaf,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who attended the impromptu White House meeting and is a close adviser to the president. “It’s a pine needle.”
Graham shot back at Cotton’s criticism, saying: “Well, Sen. Cotton can present his proposal.”
“We presented ours,” Graham said. “I’m not negotiating with Sen. Cotton and let me know when Sen. Cotton has a proposal that gets a Democrat. I’m dying to look at it.”
The agreement — which requires not only White House approval but signoff from congressional leadership — has been viewed as the legislation that has the best chance of success on Capitol Hill. Democrats, particularly in the House, have been infuriated by the details about the plan, although there will almost certainly be significant pushback from conservatives as well.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus have registered the fiercest opposition to the emerging plan. They say it goes far beyond what should be discussed when lawmakers draft a plan on Dreamers, particularly because the plan is likely to change family sponsorship laws.
“Any discussion like that needs to be part of a comprehensive immigration reform discussion, not just something that is isolated,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chairwoman of CAPAC. “Family means much to those in the AAPI community and it is in fact the way that families have been able to survive in America.”
One senior congressional aide suggested that the ultimate deal resolving the Dreamer issue will most likely emerge from a smaller group of the second-ranking congressional leaders that was pulled together this week. That group of four includes Durbin, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).
The White House is “actively involved” in that group, the aide said.
“My job is to count the votes, and I think until people are comfortable with the product, they’re not gonna commit to voting for it, and that’s what I think our goal should be, is to get it passed,” Cornyn said Thursday. Of the group of six senators, Cornyn added: “So I welcome their contribution, but it’s not gonna be something that’s agreed to by just a handful of people.”
Other details of the plan had emerged in recent days. Senators plan to effectively nix the visa lottery and reallocating those visas to a separate program being terminated by the Trump administration aiding immigrants from countries facing natural disasters or civil strife. Countries affected so far by Trump’s ending of Temporary Protected Status include El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan.
It was when Trump was being briefed on those provisions that he asked why the United States was admitting immigrants from “shithole countries,” according to two sources familiar with the meeting. Instead, Trump said, the nation needs more people from countries such as Norway.
Those who attended the White House meeting included Durbin, Graham, Cotton, McCarthy, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), and Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).
“I’m just gonna say that the president challenged those in that room to come up with a product,” Graham said. “I think he was pleased that we did. Nobody reached a deal in the meeting, but we did answer the president’s call to give him something to look at.”
To address chain migration, the senators are proposing that undocumented parents who brought a child to the United States illegally would not be able to access a pathway to citizenship based on being sponsored by their children. Still, the parents of Dreamers would be able to obtain a three-year provisional legal status that could be renewed.
Nolan McCaskill contributed to this report.
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