Senate moderates have immigration deal on Dreamers, wall

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., right, walk outside the chamber during debate in the Senate on immigration, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Schumer said on the Senate floor that "the one person who seems most intent on not getting a deal is President Trump." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate moderates reached a bipartisan agreement Wednesday aimed at balancing Democrats’ fight to offer citizenship to young “Dreamer” immigrants with President Donald Trump’s demands for billions to build his coveted border wall with Mexico, participants in those talks said.

While not specifically mentioning the bipartisan pact, Trump urged lawmakers to oppose any plan that doesn’t meet his more stringent demands, which include legal immigration curbs. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, warned, “We need to take the president seriously” and address his entire proposal.

Those comments raised questions about whether the compromise could attract the 60 votes needed to move through the closely divided Senate. But so far, no package has emerged from either side that seems able to do that.

The proposal was emerging as senators spent a third day of debate largely as they’ve spent the first two — with the chamber floor mostly empty. Other than an initial roll call allowing formal debate to begin, there have been no other votes while party leaders talk behind the scenes about scheduling votes on specific proposals.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he wants the Senate to finish considering immigration legislation this week. It is unclear if that will happen.

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said the moderates’ proposal would grant a 10- to 12-year route to citizenship for Dreamers, with Graham saying it would cover 1.8 million of them.

That’s the same number Trump has suggested helping with his own wider-ranging proposal. Dreamers are young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and still have no permanent protection from deportation.

The two senators said the plan would provide $25 billion over a decade for a wall and other border security measures, an amount Trump has requested. It would bar Dreamers from sponsoring their parents for citizenship, they said — well short of a Trump proposal to prevent all legal immigrants from bringing parents and siblings to the U.S.

The moderates’ measure does not alter a lottery that distributes about 55,000 visas annually to people from diverse countries. Trump has proposed ending it and redistributing its visas to other immigrants, including some who are admitted based on job skills, not family ties.

“The diversity lottery is kind of toxic politically because of some of the things said by the president,” said Graham, a reference to a vulgar description Trump used for African countries during a discussion of immigration.

The White House issued a written statement by Trump urging senators to back his bill and “oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill” his demands. But the statement did not say Trump would veto a bill that fell short of them.

A GOP bill tracking Trump’s proposal and backed by McConnell has been introduced. Cornyn said he expected it to be voted on this week, perhaps Thursday.

Few expect Trump’s plan to attract 60 votes, but Rounds said he believed the moderates’ proposal could.

If that happens, Rounds said, “We’ll allow the president to determine whether or not it moves in the direction that he wants.”

Also in play is a more modest plan by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del., and supported by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. It would let many Dreamers qualify for permanent residence and direct federal agencies to more effectively control the border by 2020. But it doesn’t offer a special citizenship pathway for Dreamers, raise border security funds or make sweeping changes in legal immigration rules.

In another statement, the White House said it opposes the McCain-Coons plan. It said the proposal would “increase illegal immigration, surge chain migration” — a term critics use to describe family-based immigration — and cause other problems.

Democrats prefer a narrower approach that addresses “Dreamers” and border security. Schumer said “the one person who seems most intent on not getting a deal is President Trump.” He said Trump “is trying to force his unpopular, hard-line immigration agenda down the throats of the American people.”