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Senators relaunch bipartisan immigration discussions

Thursday's session was the first in what will likely be a 'series of ongoing meetings'

Chairman Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., left, and Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., seen at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month, are part of the group.
Chairman Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., left, and Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., seen at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month, are part of the group. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A bipartisan group of senators has resumed efforts to revise the U.S. immigration system, following years of failed attempts to pass legislation on the politically divisive topic.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin of Illinois met with panel members Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Thursday morning to discuss which immigration bills could garner 60 votes, the minimum needed to overcome a filibuster in the evenly divided Senate.

The senators said they discussed several topics, such as changes for migrant farmworkers critical to the U.S. economy and changes for foreign workers stuck in a yearslong green card backlog, as well as for their children who grew up on legal visas but “aged out” before their parents’ green cards became available.

It was the first in what will likely be a “series of ongoing meetings,” Tillis said.

The push comes less than a year after Democrats attempted to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants through a party-line reconciliation bill but were thwarted by internal divisions and a Senate advisor’s rulings barring the inclusion of immigration provisions.

Padilla, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, said the group plans to meet again next week, but nothing has been scheduled.

While stressing the discussions are still in early stages, some senators expressed encouragement that talks had restarted, after a similar series of bipartisan immigration talks broke down last year.

“Look, I’m first of all encouraged that we met,” Padilla said. “We put a lot of time and effort into last year trying to find a way forward. It came and went. We hadn’t met in a while, talked for a while.”

Padilla said while the participants didn’t nail down specifics, they did make a “commitment to just resume these conversations in earnest.”

Tillis, who has spearheaded legislation to revive certain unused green card slots, described the conversation as “an organizational meeting to talk about some of the bigger concepts that we feel like are pretty important to be baked into anything that could get bipartisan support.”

“There are some that are saying, ‘What’s the draft language look like?’ We’re not there yet,” Tillis said.

Political divisions on border security continue to threaten to derail any progress made toward bipartisan immigration legislation, as they did last year.

The administration is currently facing heat from lawmakers over its plans to soon lift a pandemic-era policy, known as Title 42, that allows border agents to rapidly “expel” migrants without considering their asylum claims.

Cornyn said his message at Thursday’s meeting was that “until we deal with the Title 42 issue,” which he clarified meant replacing it with other border controls, “it’s not going to be possible to move forward on other things that we agree on.”

But Cornyn described the conversation as a “very candid and useful discussion” where they talked about “the politics of this, and the challenges we’ve had in the past dealing with immigration.” The Texas Republican also said the impending rescission of Title 42 could give Congress “a sense of urgency” on immigration.

“I’ve been here for a while now, and we’ve never failed to fail when it comes to immigration,” Cornyn said. “So I’m hoping this time is different.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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