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‘Dreamers’ in Limbo After Senate Rejects Immigration Plans

It remains unclear when Congress will take up DACA legislation again

Immigration rights advocates demonstrate in favor of “Dreamers” at a protest in Washington on Dec. 6. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Immigration rights advocates demonstrate in favor of “Dreamers” at a protest in Washington on Dec. 6. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate squandered three opportunities on Thursday to advance legislation that would protect so-called Dreamers from deportation and enhance border security measures.

Lawmakers could not muster the 60 votes needed on any of the three proposals, all of which would have offered a path to citizenship for at least 1.8 million Dreamers in return for some degree of border security. Eight Republicans crossed the aisle to support a last-ditch bipartisan deal announced Wednesday, but even that was not enough.

In the end, it was the plan supported by President Donald Trump that gained the least support, falling short by a vote of 39-60. Fourteen Republicans voted against the Trump plan, while three moderate Democrats — Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia — sided with the president. Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin all face tough re-elections in states Trump won handily in 2016.

Senate majority leaderMitch McConnell said following the votes that Democrats, who spent months demanding Congress legalize Dreamers, should put aside politics and return from next week’s scheduled recess ready to broker a compromise that Trump could sign.

“Put away the talking points and get serious about finding a solution that can become law,” the Kentucky Republican said.

It’s unclear if, or when, Congress would again take up immigration legislation. Two federal courts are blocking Trump from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which protects around 700,000 Dreamers from deportation. And House Republicans still have not secured enough support to bring up a bill backed by conservatives, which Democrats consider a nonstarter.

Nevertheless, there’s little appetite among lawmakers to continue work on a highly charged, partisan issue. Some say they would consider supporting a short-term DACA extension as part of a likely fiscal 2018 omnibus spending package to buy more time.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, an advocate for Dreamers who voted for all three proposals, said in a news release that “it looks like demagogues on the left and the right win again on immigration.”

The South Carolina Republican said he was encouraged that the bipartisan deal authored by Sens. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, and Angus King, a Maine independent, secured 54 votes, more than Trump’s favored proposal and another by Arizona Republican John McCain and Delaware Democrat Chris Coons, which Democrats preferred. The McCain-Coons proposal was blocked, 52-47.

A fourth proposal by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey to cut funding from so-called sanctuary cities that decline to cooperate with federal immigration officers went down 54-45. The Pennsylvania Republican’s amendment to the shell bill was widely seen as an attempt to force an uncomfortable vote for his home-state colleague, Democrat Bob Casey, who is up for re-election this year in a state won by Trump.

Political moves

Graham said he believed the Rounds-King framework, which would have offered a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship for at least 1.8 million Dreamers and set aside $25 billion for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, still has the best shot.

“We are not there yet, but we will keep working to build our numbers,” he said.

Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, and Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both of New Mexico, said they voted against the Rounds-King proposal because of the border wall funding.

“While this bill would put Dreamers on a pathway toward citizenship, the appropriation of $25 billion for a border wall is a waste of taxpayer money,” Harris said in a news release. “A wall will not secure our border and I remain concerned those billions of dollars may also be used to implement this administration’s anti-immigrant agenda — one that targets California and its residents.”

Moderate senators in both parties had urged their colleagues to support the bipartisan deal, but Trump and his deputies moved fast to kill it.

Trump took to Twitter minutes before the vote to declare the proposal a “total catastrophe,” following a sharply worded news release from the Homeland Security Department that called it an “egregious violation” of the president’s demands. The DHS statement argued it “would effectively make the United States a sanctuary nation where ignoring the rule of law is encouraged.”

Sen. Susan Collins, a founding member of the so-called Common Sense Coalition that brokered the Rounds-King deal, disagreed, saying it represented “a very strong commitment to border security.”

“I don’t know how anyone could seriously say that this is somehow weakening border security,” the Maine Republican said. “This is the president’s own plan.”

Some Democrats doubted whether Trump, who has continually waffled on protecting Dreamers, ever really wanted a deal in the first place.

Before the votes, minority leaderCharles E. Schumer accused the president of undermining lawmakers’ real chances of reaching a deal by demanding concessions to which Democrats could never agree.

“President Trump has shown a remarkable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” the New York Democrat said.

Camila DeChalus contributed to this report.

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