Com­pet­ing im­mi­gra­tion pro­pos­als vie for votes

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY ED O'KEEFE AND MATT ZAPO­TO­SKY ed.okeefe@wash­post.com matt.zapo­to­sky@wash­post.com Mike DeBo­nis con­trib­uted to this re­port. Watch a video at http://wapo.st/ im­mi­gra­tion0214

Pres­i­dent Trump cast the de­bate to over­haul the na­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion laws as the “last chance” for ac­tion as the Se­nate weighed com­pet­ing pro­pos­als to le­gal­ize mil­lions of young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants and ful­fill his goal of bol­ster­ing U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der se­cu­rity.

But an­other fed­eral court rul­ing Tues­day re­gard­ing the le­gal­ity of an Obama-era pro­gram shield­ing young for­eign-born “dream­ers” from de­por­ta­tion served as a re­minder that Trump’s March 5 dead­line for con­gres­sional ac­tion is mostly moot.

Af­ter months of an­tic­i­pa­tion sparked by Trump’s de­ci­sion to end the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals (DACA) pro­gram, the Se­nate de­bate on im­mi­gra­tion sput­tered at the start, with the cham­ber mostly dor­mant Tues­day as top party lead­ers ne­go­ti­ated which pro­pos­als might earn a vote.

“This is the de­bate they said they wanted,” Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell (R-Ky.) said of Democrats. “I said we’d have an open and fair process. We’re try­ing to do that, and the sooner we get started the bet­ter be­cause we’ll need to wrap this up this week.”

Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed that the de­bate should be quick. “The sooner the bet­ter,” he said, adding later that if a bi­par­ti­san deal is able to get the req­ui­site 60 votes to sur­vive pro­ce­dural chal­lenges and pass: “Let it rip. Let’s go.”

Mc­Connell tried to ac­cel­er­ate the de­bate by in­tro­duc­ing a Repub­li­can pro­posal to pun­ish cities that refuse to help en­force fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion laws. The move was blocked by Democrats who said the pro­posal would not ad­dress the more ur­gent le­gal sta­tus of dream­ers.

The fee­ble launch of the de­bate showed yet again how im­mi­gra­tion re­mains an in­tractable prob­lem for Congress. Bi­par­ti­san ne­go­ti­a­tions — now un­der their third pres­i­dent — have failed to garner sig­nif­i­cant changes in the le­gal sta­tus of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, how visas are granted to le­gal im­mi­grants or how the na­tion pro­tects the south­ern bor­der.

In an early morn­ing tweet, Trump said: “Ne­go­ti­a­tions on DACA have be­gun. Repub­li­cans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal. 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.”

Win­ning sup­port from Democrats will be key in the closely di­vided Se­nate, but Repub­li­cans com­plained that the other party was need­lessly pro­long­ing the de­bate.

“We’re all a lit­tle mys­ti­fied on why the Democrats are re­fus­ing to have the de­bate and the votes they asked for,” said Sen. Tom Cot­ton (R-Ark.).

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) shot back that his party was fo­cused on writ­ing bi­par­ti­san pro­pos­als in­stead of par­ti­san plans des­tined to fail.

“How many bills would they like to see, bi­par­ti­san bills? I can give them two that we’ve al­ready writ­ten, and there are oth­ers,” he said.

Seek­ing to am­plify his con­cerns about the im­mi­gra­tion show­down, Durbin cited the story of Chloe Kim, the Olympic snow­boarder who won a gold medal Tues­day, and her fa­ther, Jong Jin Kim, who im­mi­grated to the United States from South Korea.

“He didn’t have a col­lege de­gree,” Durbin said. “He spoke a lit­tle English, but he car­ried a Korean-English dic­tio­nary with him. And he had about $300 in his pocket.”

Durbin added that Kim “might not have passed some of the mer­it­based tests that we’re hear­ing around here” from Repub­li­cans.

Most Repub­li­cans on Tues­day ap­peared to be ral­ly­ing be­hind a pro­posal by Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Charles E. Grass­ley (R-Iowa) and six other GOP se­na­tors that ful­fills Trump’s calls to le­gal­ize 1.8 mil­lion dream­ers, im­me­di­ately au­tho­rizes spend­ing at least $25 bil­lion to bol­ster de­fenses along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, makes changes to fam­ily­based le­gal im­mi­gra­tion pro­grams and ends a di­ver­sity lot­tery sys­tem used by im­mi­grants from smaller coun­tries.

Schumer said the Grass­ley plan un­fairly tar­gets fam­ily-based im­mi­gra­tion and that mak­ing such broad changes as part of a plan to le­gal­ize just a few mil­lion peo­ple “makes no sense.”

In a bid to soften Trump’s pro­pos­als and win over Democrats, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) un­veiled a wa­tered-down ver­sion of the GOP pro­posal — but had not won sup­port from mem­bers of ei­ther party by late Tues­day.

Sen. Lindsey O. Gra­ham (R-S.C.), a long­time pro­po­nent of com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion changes, said the Grass­ley pro­posal should be the fo­cus of the Se­nate’s de­bate.

“What would make it bet­ter? If you took that bill and you changed it, how could you get 70 votes?” he asked. He told re­porters that the “key” to win­ning over Democrats would be ad­dress­ing what the leg­is­la­tion says about fam­ily-based im­mi­gra­tion.

Schumer and other Democrats, mean­while, voiced sup­port for a plan by Sens. Christo­pher A. Coons (D-Del.) and John McCain (RAriz.) that would grant le­gal sta­tus to dream­ers in the coun­try since 2013 but would not im­me­di­ately au­tho­rize money to build out south­ern bor­der walls and fenc­ing.

“It is my hope it’ll get a strong vote,” Coons said.

A fed­eral judge on Tues­day tem­po­rar­ily blocked moves to end DACA — though he rec­og­nized that the ad­min­is­tra­tion “in­dis­putably” has the au­thor­ity to do so.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Ni­cholas Ga­rau­fis in New York wrote that the pro­gram “sim­ply re­flected the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion that DHS’s lim­ited en­force­ment re­sources gen­er­ally should not be used to de­port in­di­vid­u­als who were brought to the United States as chil­dren, met ed­u­ca­tional or mil­i­tary-ser­vice re­quire­ments, and lacked mean­ing­ful crim­i­nal records.” Thus, he said, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was well within its rights to change tack. But Ga­rau­fis wrote that ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials had not of­fered legally ad­e­quate rea­sons for do­ing so be­cause they re­lied on an er­ro­neous le­gal con­clu­sion that the pro­gram was un­con­sti­tu­tional and il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law.

“Be­cause that con­clu­sion was er­ro­neous, the de­ci­sion to end the DACA pro­gram can­not stand,” Ga­rau­fis wrote.

Ga­rau­fis is­sued what is known as a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion, which would keep DACA alive while the court case be­fore him pro­ceeded. A fed­eral judge in Cal­i­for­nia has is­sued a sim­i­lar in­junc­tion, and the Supreme Court is ex­pected this week to con­sider whether it will take up the fight over DACA.

“This will be our last chance, there will never be an­other op­por­tu­nity!” Pres­i­dent Trump, in a tweet about DACA ne­go­ti­a­tions

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