A Guide To The Senate’s Immigration Proposals
As the Senate continues its freewheeling immigration debate, members of both parties are competing to reach 60 votes on one of numerous proposals balancing relief for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiaries with border security.
At the center of the debate
is what will happen to the so-called Dreamers, some 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Established in 2012, DACA has offered deportation relief and work authorization to these young immigrants, but in September the Trump administration announced that DACA would end on March 5
Two federal courts have enjoined that decision temporarily, forcing the administration to continue operating the program while lawmakers have set out to craft a legislative fix for DACA recipients.
President Donald Trump has offered his own four-pillar legislative framework, including relief for Dreamers, a border wall system, an end to the diversity visa lottery, and steep limits on immigrants’ sponsoring family members’ visas.
Democrats, on the other hand, have been reluctant to accept large cuts to legal immigration and what they see as exorbitant, unnecessary funding for border security. Some are pushing what they call a “Clean Dream Act” that narrowly focuses on Dreamers facing a crisis.
Here’s a guide to the various immigration proposals currently floating around Congress:
The Republican Proposal
Modeled after Trump’s four-prong framework, the so-called Secure and Succeed Act unveiled Monday would fully fund the president’s $25 billion border security requests, eliminate a visa lottery program, tighten visa sponsorship restrictions, and offer a 12-year path to citizenship to Dreamers.
The proposal has earned stamps of approval from both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and is sponsored by Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, David Perdue of Georgia, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Joni Ernst of Iowa.
“The simple fact remains that this amendment is the only Senate plan that the president supports,” Grassley said. “This plan is the only Senate plan that has any possibility of passing the House of Representatives and becoming law. So, I have to ask my colleagues who oppose this proposal, are you interested in actually getting something done, in actually providing a path to citizenship for these DACA kids or are you interested in a political issue?”
On border security, the proposal would invest in infrastructure, technology and personnel, and mandate that the federal government obtain what sponsors call total “operational control” and “situational awareness” of the border, among other provisions. It would also reallocate 55,000 visas in a visa lottery program to family-based and employment-based immigration backlogs.
Moreover, it would prevent immigrants already living in the U.S. from sponsoring most family for visas – which Republicans refer to as “chain migration” – allowing them only to sponsor their spouses or unmarried children under 18.
The Gang of Six Proposal
A bipartisan group of six senators proposed a deal last month that would achieve a legislative replacement to DACA and address the pillars of Trump’s immigration framework.
Spearheaded by Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the agreement was declared “dead on arrival” by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It would offer a 10- to 12-year pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, invest $3 billion in border security and technology, eliminate the diversity visa lottery, and prevent DACA beneficiaries from sponsoring their family, but directly grant their parents work authorization.
It notably does not include provisions for funding interior enforcement measures.
“I know the bipartisan proposal can get a lot of support from both sides,” Graham said in a statement shortly after he introduced the bill. “I believe it is vitally important to come to a bipartisan solution to the immigration and border challenges we face today.”
The group of senators sponsoring the bill also included Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
The McCain-Coons Proposal
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced a bipartisan compromise earlier this month that would offer immediate conditional permanent residence to Dreamers and tighten border security.
The bill would allow Dreamers to apply for conditional permanent residence if they meet certain background check, education and criminal history requirements, and, if they maintain good standing, to become lawful permanent residents and then U.S. citizens after a minimum of five years. It would also deploy physical-barrier technologies and create new ports of entry to gain full control of the border by 2020.
McCain urged his colleagues to accept the compromise in order to move on to other pressing issues, such as the bipartisan budget agreement to lift the caps on defense spending and fund the military.
“It’s no secret that Congress is gridlocked, and there is a growing list of unaddressed issues we simply have to fix, but I still believe that we agree on more than we disagree on,” Coons said in a statement. “The bill I’m introducing with Senator McCain today doesn’t solve every immigration issue, but it does address the two most pressing problems we face: protecting Dreamers and securing the border. We need to find a way through this gridlock to get Congress working again, and this is a viable path forward.”
The Flake Proposal
Flake of Arizona is fielding his own formula for an immigration compromise that closely follows Trump’s four-pillar proposal, but omits certain border security provisions, according to a summary obtained by Law360 on Tuesday.
The so-called Preserving Immigration Levels and Legally Enhancing Readiness Act of 2018, or PILLAR Act, would offer a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship for Dreamers and fund $25 billion in border security measures, including a maximum of $1.8 billion annually on border improvements. It would also eliminate a visa lottery program and prevent immigrants from sponsoring family members other than spouses and children.
It does not, however, include the same strict interior and border enforcement measures featured in the Republican proposal.
Flake also told reporters that he was also preparing a separate “fail-safe” proposal that would include a three-year DACA extension with border security provisions.
“I maintain that the only way to find out what the president supports is to put a bill on the floor and vote on it,” he tweeted about DACA last month.