Much Senate Sniping, Little Action on Immigration

Partisan sniping dominated U.S. Senate deliberations one day after the chamber voted to launch debate on immigration reform, including the fate of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, on Tuesday signaled his intention to conclude the immigration debate by week’s end and accused Democrats of needlessly delaying floor action.

“If we’re going to resolve these matters this week, we need to get moving,” McConnell said.

Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York objected when McConnell moved to begin floor debate on legislation cracking down on so-called “sanctuary cities” — municipalities that do not cooperate with federal authorities in identifying and handing over undocumented immigrants.

Schumer said the proposal “doesn’t address Dreamers, nor does it address [U.S.] border security,” and “would be getting off on the wrong foot.”

Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, sometimes referred to as Dreamers, received temporary permission to work and study in the United States under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama administration program that President Donald Trump rescinded last year.

Trump challenged Congress to pass a law addressing DACA beneficiaries’ legal status, reigniting an immigration debate that reached the Senate floor this week.

“The key here is an immigration debate, not a DACA-only debate, not an amnesty-only debate,” Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley said. “An immigration debate has to include a discussion about enforcement measures … how to remove dangerous criminal aliens from our country.”

Trump has proposed a path to eventual citizenship for 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants, but also demanded funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a reduction in the number of legal immigrants America accepts, and prioritizing newcomers with advanced work skills.

“Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle. This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th.”

‘We’re on the verge’

Trump set March 5 as the termination date for DACA, after which former beneficiaries would be at risk of deportation unless Congress acts.

Any immigration proposal will need three-fifths backing to advance in the Senate, and Democrats argued that only a narrowly-tailored bill focusing on areas of general bipartisan agreement — a DACA fix and boosting border security — can pass.

“We can get something done, we’re on the verge,” Schumer said. “Let’s work toward that.”

Senate Republicans have unveiled a proposal that encompasses Trump’s immigration priorities, including “merit-based” legal immigration that gives preference to those who can best contribute to U.S. economic output.

Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said such criteria would have excluded his relatives who came to America from Lithuania.

“My grandparents and my mother didn’t come to this country with any special skills or proficiency. They came here with a determination to make a better life, and they did — for themselves and for me,” Durbin said. “That’s my family’s story. That’s America’s story.”

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