Senate Rejects Bipartisan Amnesty for Dreamers

None of the four immigration proposals — including the 'only one' that could become law — garnered enough support to break a filibuster

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 15 Feb 2018 at 7:45 PM

An amnesty bid derided by one senator as the “olly olly oxen free” proposal narrowly failed to break a filibuster Thursday — greatly diminishing the chances that Congress will pass a law to protect the so-called dreamers.

The proposal by a bipartisan group calling itself the Common Sense Coalition attracted 54 votes, six shy of the 60-vote threshold.

Three other proposed amendments, including one favored by President Donald Trump, also failed.

That means there likely will be no legislative replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was created under former President Barack Obama and gave quasi-amnesty to 690,000 illegal immigrants brought to America as children.

Trump ordered last year that DACA end on March 5, although supporters are fighting that in court.

A bitter Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blamed Trump — naturally — for a failure of leadership.

“President Trump has stood in the way of every single proposal that could become law,” he said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a supporter of the bipartisan plan, expressed frustration.

"It looks like demagogues on the Left and the Right win again on immigration," he said in a statement.

Trump's favored approach, introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), would have granted a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants. It also would have authorized $25 billion for a wall and border security, eliminated a program that awards about 50,000 green cards annually to foreigners chosen randomly from millions of applicants, and limited the ability of immigrants to sponsor their relatives.

But that measure failed, too, falling 21 votes short.

"This is it, in a sense, the only plan that can become law, that the president said he would sign," Grassley said before the legislation went down in flames. "This is it. This is your last chance to vote for [a] path to citizenship to all of the people that we have been talking about."

The Senate also shot down two other amendments — one that would have cut off certain grant funds to "sanctuary" cities and counties, and one modeled on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, from which dreamers get their nickname.

The bipartisan Common Sense Coalition proposal also would have authorized $25 billion for a wall and border security system and would have made smaller changes to chain migration. It would have given amnesty to DACA enrollees and others to add up to 1.8 million, according to supporters. Critics estimated more than three million people would have been eligible.

Beneficiaries would have been able to become citizens in 10 to 12 years.

"What we have done is what the president has asked for," said one of the sponsors, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

But opponents said this proposal was highly misleading. The $25 billion for border security, for instance, would have included only $2.58 billion this year and could not have been used for physical barriers. Funding in future years for a wall would have been contingent on reports from the Department of Homeland Security.

Some Democrats voted for it reluctantly but made clear they believed it contained too many concessions to Trump.

Perhaps most striking, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said, was a provision declaring that illegal immigrants who arrived before the end of June would not be deportation priorities. The original text applied that language to illegal immigrants who had been in the United States continuously for five and a half years on January 1.

A handwritten change moved the date to June 30 — which Cotton said would have provoked a rush to the border.

"You might call it the 'olly olly oxen free' position, because it declares to anyone, worldwide, if you get to the United States in the next four months, before June 30, 2018, 'olly olly oxen free,' the Department of Homeland Security will not enforce our laws against you," he said.

Grassley also criticized the proposal.

"This proposal fails to meet the mark, will result in massive amnesty, and it will result in a surge if illegal immigration, even encouraging illegal crossings of our borders, and it has absolutely no chance of becoming law," said Grassley.

Some Democrats voted for it reluctantly but made clear they believed it contained too many concessions to Trump.

"I'm not the biggest fan of this deal," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said. "It's a bitter pill to swallow."

Related: Nevada Senator Flat-Out Misstates How Chain Migration Works

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) argued in favor of his proposal to cut funding to cities and counties that failed to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. He highlighted a pair of crimes committed by previously deported illegal immigrants who got out of jail on local charges despite hold requests from ICE.

"Kate Steinle didn't have to be shot and killed on a pier in San Francisco," he said. "A 13-year-old didn't have to be raped in Philadelphia. … Both of those crimes were committed by people who were in this country illegally after committing multiple crimes previously and after having been deported."

The proposal got the support of just four Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) argued that it would unfairly withhold "critical funds" from cities that don't "deploy their officers as immigration agents."

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Molly Adams, Flickr)

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