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U.S. Senate rejects immigration proposals, continuing limbo for “Dreamers”

16 Feb

By Jilian Aguilar, The Texas Tribune

The U.S. Senate on Thursday failed to advance any of the four immigration proposals that lawmakers offered up this week, meaning legislation to protect young undocumented immigrants and bolster border security is again at a standstill.

Sixty votes were needed to adopt any of the four proposals, but neither party was able to muster enough crossover votes to meet that threshold.

Though he had conceded that the path forward on any legislation would be rocky in the more conservative U.S. House, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, sounded optimistic earlier this week that something would be sent out of the Senate.

But Cornyn, the Senate Majority Whip, immediately took to Twitter Thursday afternoon to express his frustration as one of the day’s proposals that came closest to matching President Donald Trump’s immigration priorities failed.

“Squandered opportunity,” he posted.

One amendment by U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Chris Coons, D-Delaware, was believed by immigrant rights groups to be the most broadly palatable, given that it would have allowed young undocumented immigrants to begin on a path to citizenship and didn’t affect other current immigration policies.

The Texas Border Coalition, a group of business and elected officials, also supported the measure because it would have called for a mile-by-mile analysis of the border instead of funding construction of a border wall in full.

An amendment by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would have come the closest to fulfilling Trump’s immigration wish list. That proposal would have rolled back family migration policies, eliminated the visa lottery system, provided billions for border security and protected about 1.8 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. It only garnered 39 votes in the 100-member chamber.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz voted against several of the measures, including Grassley’s.

Prior to the vote, Cruz was asked Thursday morning about the president’s preferred framework on “Fox and Friends,” a show the president frequently watches.

“That is dramatically to the left of where Barack Obama was,” Cruz said, noting that Obama’s DACA action did not involve a pathway citizenship.

Immigrant rights groups expressed their frustration at the inaction but insisted they would not relent in their pursuit of legislation that protects the young undocumented immigrants, known as “Dreamers.”

“To Dreamers, keep the faith. Your country is behind you, even if the White House is not,” Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, said in a statement. “We will find a way, even if we have to lean more heavily on the courts, state and local governments, community actors and employers.”

Sharry also said the fact that not one proposal passed was indicative that even the Republican Party doesn’t agree wholly with the president’s immigration and border security agenda.

Another bipartisan effort would have provided $25 billion for border security and protected the 1.8 million undocumented immigrants. But Trump said earlier in the day that he’d veto that proposal because it didn’t include language on the visa lottery system or family migration. A separate proposal would have punished “sanctuary cities,” the common term for local governments that do not enforce federal immigration laws or cooperate with immigration agents. It failed 54 to 45. Cornyn supported that measure, as well as the Grassley amendment.

Thursday’s votes mean that the 124,000 Texans who benefited from former President Barack Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, will have to continue waiting and watching what, if anything, Congress will do before primary season kicks in to high gear across the country. The country’s first statewide primary of the year is in Texas on March 6.

Trump announced in September a six-month phaseout of the DACA program, but two federal district court judges have since ruled that the federal government must continue accepting applications for renewals of the two-year permits DACA provides. The U.S. Supreme Court could soon decide to weigh in on that issue, potentially casting even more doubt on what the future of U.S. immigration policy will look like in the coming months.

Some Republicans, including Cornyn and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had said the president’s proposal was surprisingly generous given that it would have expanded protections from deportation to more than a million more undocumented immigrants than DACA offered.

But Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said people shouldn’t forget that the president also wants to slash legal immigration by 40 percent. He said Trump overplayed his hand in pushing for a more partisan outcome and that he expected that to be reflected in this year’s elections.

“People want a bipartisan solution,” he said.