Immigration Progress Elusive as Next Deadline Approaches

‘It’s at the same place it was before, but there’s a sense of urgency,’ Durbin says

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 29, 2018 at 6:03pm

No. 2 congressional leaders and White House officials involved in ongoing immigration negotiations sounded dour about any progress after their latest meeting Monday but nonetheless vowed talks would continue.

The group, which includes Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., White House chief of staff John Kelly and White House legislative affairs director Marc Short, has been meeting for weeks but seemingly making little progress toward a bipartisan, bicameral agreement. 

The status of so-called Dreamers (young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children), border security, family-based visas and the diversity visa lottery program are the policy areas the group has been debating. The clock is ticking as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is scheduled to end March 5, and the Senate is expected to hold an open floor debate on the matter the week of Feb. 12.

“It’s at the same place it was before, but there’s a sense of urgency,” Durbin said after Monday’s meeting. He said the group would meet again Tuesday.

Hoyer called the discussion “candid, direct and continuing.”

“I think we were candid as to where to each one of us was coming from,” he said. “I’m not going to go into what that is because that wouldn’t be useful, but I don’t think anybody was not being straightforward.”

But no agreements were made, Hoyer said.

Short said the group was “continuing to make some progress.” They discussed the immigration framework the White House unveiled last week, he said, but declined to detail their positions.

While the White House is not turning its framework into legislative text, Short said he expects some senators are.

“Leader McConnell has said that he wants to put a bill on the floor the president would sign,” he said. “Legislation drafted from that framework is a bill the president would sign.”

House Democrats and some senators of both parties have suggested the best path to a deal is narrowing the issues down to the status of Dreamers and border security. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reiterated that view during a Washington Post Live event Monday. 

“For right now if you really do care about the Dreamers there is an agreement to be reached,” the California Democrat said. 

Pelosi defined the border security component of a potential deal as what border patrol has identified as its needs, saying a physical wall is “too expensive, almost immoral.”

The immigration framework the White House released last week is “not in keeping with what immigration has meant to America,” she said. 

The White House, however, sees its framework as a compromise measure that puts many issues, such as agricultural visas and the E-Verify program to the side for later debate, Short said.

“This proposal we really view as a winnowing down of the things we think are essential to do now,” he said. “And I feel like if we don’t then we’re going to be back here in a few years. Because if we don’t fix these problems what you’re doing, in essence, is creating a magnet by offering a pathway to citizenship for those DACA permit holders that then creates an incentive for others to try to risk their lives coming across the border without any consequences or the ability for us to turn them away.”

Short said the White House is not open to further narrowing down the parameters of a deal beyond the four already agreed to, saying that dealing with family-based visas and the diversity program must be part of a final deal.