US immigration

US senators reach immigration deal across the aisle – but Donald Trump isn’t happy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 4:56am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 5:18am

A group of bipartisan senators has reached a deal on legislation to protect younger immigrants brought to the country illegally, or “Dreamers”, two Republican senators said on Thursday.

One of them, Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina), said he shopped the framework to the White House in hopes President Donald Trump would bless the effort. Trump’s sign-off would be crucial to any hopes of pushing a compromise on the divisive issue through Congress – but the White House didn’t appear to be on board.

Reacting to word of progress, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “There has not been a deal reached yet.” She said the White House would keep working with Congress to try to get something done.

Earlier, Graham had said he was talking to the White House about what he thinks is a bipartisan proposal.

“I’m hopeful it will lead to a breakthrough,” said Graham, who has forged a close relationship with Trump despite their prior political rivalry.

But other lawmakers on the issue pumped the brakes on that idea.

The bipartisan group of three Democrats and three Republicans includes Graham, Jeff Flake (Republican, Arizona), who initially announced the agreement, and top Senate Democrat Dick Durbin.

The other senators are Republican Cory Gadner and Democrats Michael Bennet and Robert Menendez.

I’m hopeful it will lead to a breakthrough
Senator Lindsey Graham

The tentative agreement “addresses border security, the diversity visa lottery, chain migration/family reunification and the Dream Act,” they wrote in a statement.

But unless Trump signs off on it, it won’t be entered to the Senate or House of Representatives for approval.

Durbin is among many pro-immigration senators who have been working for months in hopes of securing legislation to extend Obama-era immigrant protections called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

DACA protects immigrants who were brought into the US illegally as children; Trump has attempted to repeal the law, but that has been temporarily blocked by a California appeal court.

“Senator Flake’s bipartisan group – the only bipartisan group that has been negotiating a DACA fix – has struck a deal,” said Flake spokesman Jason Samuels. “The next step is taking it to the White House.”

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Senator Tom Cotton (Republican, Arkansas), a sceptic on looser immigration rules who joined Graham at the White House, said no broader deal had yet been formed and that Trump had sent congressional negotiators back to the “drawing board.”

Cotton declared that Democrats have yet to give enough on border security and other immigration issues even though he and other Republicans are willing to bend on the issue of childhood arrivals.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Trump said he would not support a DACA bill unless it also paid for the wall that he has proposed to run along the US-Mexico border.

“No, no, no,” he replied. “It’s got to include the wall. We need the wall for security. We need the wall for safety. We need the wall to stop the drugs from pouring in.

“I would imagine the people in the room, both Democrat and Republican – I really believe they are going to come up with a solution to the DACA problem that’s been going on for a long time, and maybe beyond that, immigration as a whole.”

It’s got to include the [Mexico border] wall. We need the wall for security. We need the wall for safety. We need the wall to stop the drugs from pouring in
Donald Trump on what the bipartisan proposal must include

He has also expressed concerns about chain migration, in which immigrants can sponsor relatives to live in the US, and the diversity visa lottery, which gives visas at random - after background checks - to citizens of underrepresented countries in the US.

The Flake-Durbin-Graham group had also been discussing border security and other issues such as preferential treatment for family members of immigrants already in the US.

Details were not immediately available on what the bargainers had signed off on.

A spokesman for Durbin, Ben Marter, declined to confirm that an accord had been reached. “Nothing to report yet,” Marter said.

Even if the Flake-Durbin group has reached an agreement, it’s not clear whether it would resolve the fight over protecting nearly 800,000 young immigrants.

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In a further complication, the group is but one faction on Capitol Hill working on the issue, which took on urgency in September when President Donald Trump removed DACA protections put in place by then-President Barack Obama, saying Congress should address it.

It’s not certain whether the group’s plan could pass Congress. House Republican leaders, for instance, are putting more stock in a group of top leaders in both parties that have just begun talking.

But delays in forging an agreement have led Democrats to use leverage over a separate issue – the budget – to seek to drive the immigration legislation into law.

They have put on hold separate talks on a potential deal on spending that would uncork tens of billions of dollars in higher Pentagon spending this year alone, along with money sought by Democrats for domestic programmes.

Democratic votes are needed to advance such legislation, but top Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York won’t agree to a budget deal unless DACA is dealt with first.

Republicans had long fought perceptions that the two issues were tied together, but they’re dropping that pretence now.

Any bipartisan agreement among bargainers would still face hurdles.

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Many Democrats would oppose providing substantial sums on Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

There’s plenty of other bipartisan activity going on that gives me hope that we’re pretty close
Senator Nancy Pelosi

Many Hispanic and liberal members of the party oppose steps toward curtailing immigration such as ending the visa lottery and restricting the relatives that legal immigrants could bring to the US.

Among Republicans, some conservatives are insisting on going further than the steps that Trump has suggested.

They want to reduce legal immigration, require employers to verify workers’ citizenship and block federal grants to so-called sanctuary cities that hinder federal anti-immigrant efforts.

The Flake-Durbin group is in competition with a group of lawmakers that is blessed by Trump and includes top Republican and Democratic leaders from both House and Senate and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Durbin is actually a part of this group also but has been privately dismissive of the effort, which got under way only this week. Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California was dismissive as well.

“The five white guys I call them,” Pelosi told reporters. “Why now? Except perhaps to delay?”

But Pelosi added, “There’s plenty of other bipartisan activity going on that gives me hope that we’re pretty close.”

Efforts to reach an immigration deal accelerated after Trump met with two dozen top lawmakers Tuesday at the White House and agreed to work toward a bipartisan agreement.

Members of the group said they’d agreed to seek a package with four elements: helping the so-called Dreamers, strengthening border security, altering how some immigrants bring relatives to the US and making changes to a visa lottery that admits some people.

Reuters also contributed to this report.