Senators strike deal on immigration

A broad bipartisan group of United States senators reached agreement Wednesday on a narrow rewrite of the country’s immigration laws that would bolster border security and resolve the fate of Caribbean and other “Dreamers,” even as President Donald J. Trump suggested he would veto any plan that does not adhere to his harder-line approach.

Their compromise legislation sets up a clash pitting the political center of the Senate against Trump and the Republican congressional leadership, according to the New York Times.

It said senators in both parties have been racing against a self-imposed end-of-the-week deadline to write legislation that could win wide support by increasing border security while, at the same time, offering a path to citizenship for young Caribbean and other immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

Members of the bipartisan group, which calls itself the “Common Sense Coalition,” said their deal does just that, according to the Times.

It said they were working Wednesday evening to determine whether their bill could garner the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster.

“The president’s going to have a vote on his concept. I don’t think it will get 60 votes,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a member of the group, adding: “The bottom line then is: What do you do next? You can do what we’ve done for the last 35 years — blame each other. Or you can actually start fixing the broken immigration system.

“If you came out of this with strong border security — the president getting his wall and the Dream Act population being taken care of — most Americans would applaud,” Graham continued.

The bipartisan measure, sponsored by eight Democrats, eight Republicans and one independent, would appropriate US$25 billion for border security, including construction of the president’s proposed wall at the Mexican border, over a 10-year period — not immediately, as Trump demands, the Times said.

It said the measure would also offer an eventual path to citizenship, over 10 to 12 years, for 1.8 million of the young, undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants, but would preclude them from sponsoring their parents to become citizens.

The legislation would make no changes to the diversity visa lottery system, which Trump wants to end.

But in a Wednesday morning statement, Trump urged senators to oppose any bill that did not also embrace the “four pillars” of his immigration approach, which includes a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws that would close the country’s borders to many immigrants trying to come to the United States legally, the Times said.

“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,” Trump said in the statement, referring to the chief sponsor of the measure, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa.

The Grassley bill would provide a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants, end the visa lottery program, build a border wall and severely limit what he calls “chain migration,” which is family-based immigration, the Times said.

It said the Grassley bill would also increase the use of radar and tower-based surveillance, sensors and drones mostly along the Southwest US border, increase the number of border patrol officers and deploy the National Guard to help construct border fencing and operate some of the surveillance equipment.

After Senate Democrats met in a closed-door session on Wednesday to talk about the coalition’s plan, some, who favor improvements in border security but have been deeply opposed to building a wall, had reservations, the Times said.

“I know that people want to get some certainty for these kids,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota.

She said she would support the common sense measure, but added, “We’re being asked to make some tough compromises.”

Trump’s decision to weigh in forcefully called into question whether any compromise legislation would be dead on arrival at his desk, the Times said.

His statement came as the Senate was just beginning to debate immigration, using a novel approach in which lawmakers are trying to build a bill from scratch on the floor.

“He’s not helpful at all,’’ said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “All he does is create a crisis and can’t help us solve it.”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York noted that Trump in September ordered an end to the Obama-era program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protected the Dreamers from deportation and provided them work permits.

“The American people know what’s going on,” said Schumer on the Senate floor. “They know this president not only created the problem, but seems to be against every solution that might pass because it isn’t 100 percent of what he wants.

“If, at the end of the week, we are unable to find a bill that can pass — and I sincerely hope that’s not the case due to the good efforts of so many people on both sides of the aisle — the responsibility will fall entirely on the president’s shoulders and those in this body who went along with him,” he added.

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