Lawmakers are scrambling to reach a deal on protections for Dreamers, and the White House just shot down their best bet

  • Lawmakers have been rushing to forge a deal on the young immigrants protected under the soon-to-be-cancelled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
  • Republican Sen. Jeff Flake told reporters Thursday that a bipartisan group of senators had reached an agreement.
  • The White House, along with hardliner Republicans, quickly shot their proposal down.

A major bipartisan effort to resolve the fate of hundreds of thousands of young unauthorised immigrants was underway on Thursday, after a group of six Republican and Democratic senators said they reached an “agreement in principle” that was quickly shot down by the White House.

The news is the latest development in an increasingly chaotic week of negotiations between Republicans, Democrats, and the White House to forge a permanent legislative fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields some 690,000 immigrants from deportation and will be phased out by March 5.

“We’ve got this bipartisan group, we’re at a deal,” Republican Sen. Jeff Flake told reporters earlier on Thursday afternoon. “So we’ll be talking to the White House about that and I hope we can move forward with it, it’s the only game in town. There’s no other bill.”

That hope was shot down later that afternoon, following the White House meeting. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed afterwards that there was no deal yet on DACA.

Yet even after the meeting, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who was part of the bipartisan group, said they were “working to build support for that deal in Congress.” He added that the deal touched upon border security, the diversity visa lottery, family-based immigration categories, and protections for young unauthorised immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

The agreement would offer a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers, but only after at least 10 years, a source familiar with the negotiations told Business Insider.

It would also make headway toward reforming family-based immigration – sometimes referred to as “chain migration” – by offering three-year, renewable work permits to the parents of Dreamers, but making them ineligible to be sponsored for citizenship.

“President Trump called on Congress to solve the DACA challenge,” Durbin said in a statement. “We have been working for four months and have reached an agreement in principle that addresses … the areas outlined by the President.

The bipartisan group included Durbin, Flake, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Cory Gardner, and Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Michael Bennet.

The Trump administration announced in September it would phase out DACA over six months, giving Congress time to enact a solution. The urgency grows as the March 5 deadline for DACA’s termination draws near, at which point the immigrants will begin losing their work authorization and protection from deportation en masse.

Adding to the chaos is the January 19 funding deadline that could lead to a government shutdown if Democrats withhold their votes until an immigration bill is passed, as they have vowed to do.

Nonstarters and party infighting

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, a key Trump supporter and immigration hardliner, called the bipartisan proposal “a joke,” Bloomberg News reported. He argued that it didn’t go far enough in ending certain family-based immigration categories, which some conservatives refer to as “chain migration,” and it didn’t fully do away with the diversity visa lottery program.

Graham, however, fired back at Cotton over his negotiation strategy.

“Sen. Cotton can present his proposal. We presented ours,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “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.”

And though President Donald Trump and many Republicans have insisted that border security measures include funding for a wall, Flake said Thursday that the physical structure the six senators agreed upon would have been “more of a fence,” according to CNBC. He added that surveillance technology and staffing would also be part of the border security proposals.

Adding to the confusion is a separate bill released by House Republicans on Wednesday, which included a slew of hardline immigration measures that Democrats insist are nonstarters.

That bill, for instance, would merely offer DACA recipients three-year, renewable work permits without a pathway to citizenship. It would also end all family-sponsored immigration except for the spouses and minor children of American citizens, and do away with the diversity visa lottery program.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been coping with their own immigration-related infighting, and disagree on how best to tackle DACA negotiations.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were reportedly lambasted in a meeting Tuesday night by their own caucus for negotiating on family-based immigration and the diversity visa lottery, which Trump and many Republicans want to end.

“We’re willing to give a little when it comes to border security, but we’re not willing to give away the whole hog and farm,” Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona told Politico.

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