Trump Immigration Framework Will Be Senate Starting Point
As debate begins in earnest, Majority Leader McConnell endorses legislation to put president's compromise ideas to paper, but Democrats balk
President Donald Trump’s immigration framework will be the starting point of the Senate’s long-awaited debate on legislation to grant legal status to those immigrants brought here illegally as children.
The Senate voted 97-1 Monday to start debate on the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has promised an open process, set the tone by endorsing an approach based on Trump’s outline and offered by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and five other Republicans.
“This legislation is a fair compromise that addresses the stated priorities of all sides,” he said. “It’s our best chance to produce a solution that can actually resolve these matters, which requires that a bill pass the Senate, pass the House, and earn the president’s signature.”
The proposal would grant legal status to 1.8 million illegal immigrants. At the same time, it would fund Trump’s proposed border wall and other security measures, and curtail family-sponsored immigration. Some 50,000 green cards awarded to applicants chosen at random from all over the world would be converted into merit-based visas.
It remains far from clear, however, that this week’s freewheeling process will result in anything resembling the president’s demands — or anything that could garner the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate.
NumbersUSA, which favors lower levels of immigration, tried to rally activists across the country Monday to pressure their senators to oppose any legislation that would codify the soon-to-expire Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program without including Trump’s reforms.
Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for the organization, said in a statement it is urging its 9 million members to oppose any legislation that does not also include other provisions originally proposed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), such as making the E-Verify system mandatory for all businesses.
"These key components are included [in] Chairman Goodlatte's H.R. 4760, the Securing America's Future Act, which NumbersUSA supports and President Trump has praised," Chmielenski stated.
Outside the Senate, there were signs Monday of possible compromise on the contentious immigration issue. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), one of the most virulent pro-amnesty lawmakers in Congress, told Roll Call, "I'm ready to do E-Verify."
Inside the chamber, however, senators offered few indications of compromise. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued for a "narrow bill," by which he meant a bill that would grant amnesty without addressing the deficiencies that allowed so many illegal immigrants to bring their young children to the U.S. in the first place.
"Now is not the time nor the place to reform the entire legal immigration system," he said. "Rather, this is the moment for a narrow bill."
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who favors amnesty, indicated Monday he will vote against legislation based on the White House framework, according to Politico.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the six senators involved in translating the president's idea into law, said Trump already has compromised from his original position when he said in September that he would end DACA on March 5. "I think most people have been surprised, maybe shocked is a better word, at the generosity of the president's offer for the DACA-eligible recipients," he said.
Cornyn urged no "grandstanding" during the debate.
"What I'm interested in is solving the problem, and that means not only a proposal that can get 60 votes but one that can pass the House and be signed into law by President Trump," he said. "That's simply critical."
Referencing the last large-scale amnesty, Grassley said it was important to "make sure that we don't make the same mistakes we did in 1986 when we gave amnesty because we thought we had border security, and the numbers show that quite obviously, we didn't do a very good job of border security in 1986."
Grassley and others also urged his colleagues to keep in mind that the Senate is only one-third of the equation. He said the House and Trump must agree as well.
"What is the point of our working hard if we're not going to get something that's gonna be finalized by a signature from the president of the United States?" he said.
Added Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), "It's the one bill that can become a law."
Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) cited a Quinnipiac poll indicating that Americans oppose a border wall by a 2-1 margin and that 78 percent oppose cutting legal immigration.
The White House counters with polls by CBS and a Harvard/Harris survey that show different results. The CBS poll found 72 percent of people who watched the State of the Union address favor the president's proposed solution for DACA.