Three-year DACA, border security deal blocked in Senate

Greg Nash

A temporary extension of a key Obama-era immigration program was blocked Tuesday in the Senate as lawmakers struggle to break a stalemate.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) tried to pass legislation that would extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for three years while providing $7.6 billion in border security funding.

Flake said his proposal would be a “stopgap” to try to give Congress more time to work on a long-term solution for immigrants in the country after three larger proposals were rejected by the Senate last month. 

“To put it as bluntly as possible, this is simply not something we can ignore any longer. … We cannot completely abdicate the responsibility of Congress,” Flake said.


But GOP Sen. James Lankford (Okla.) objected to Flake’s legislation, arguing he wanted a permanent fix for DACA recipients — immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children.

Lankford asked Flake to modify his request so the Senate would instead pass GOP legislation, spearheaded by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), that mirrors the White House’s framework.

That plan included a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants in the country illegally, $25 billion in border security funds, changes to family-based immigration and the elimination of the State Department’s diversity visa lottery. 

“If Congress does a temporary patch once, it will do it 20 times again. My concern is for the DACA kids that are in my state of Oklahoma … they are looking for an actual solution,” Lankford said.

But when Flake rejected the modification request, Lankford objected to passing the original three-year DACA and border security fix.

Flake noted that the Grassley proposal based on Trump’s immigration plan only got 39 votes during last month’s failed debate, where he said he watched lawmakers “squander the best opportunity we’ve had in a long time” to pass a DACA fix.

“The problem is what has been proposed as an amazement here is for all intents and purposes is comprehensive immigration reform which would make changes to legal immigration. That is too much to bite off at this time,” Flake said.

The back-and-forth on the Senate floor comes as the debate on the DACA program has largely stalled with no clear path toward a fix after Congress missed a deadline offered by Trump.

The Trump administration announced last year that it was ending the program, setting up a March 5 deadline for Congress to pass legislation. While two court decisions threw that timeline into limbo, the initial deadline passed Monday with no sign of a deal on Capitol Hill. 

Flake pitched the three-year fix with Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.). The two have discussed trying to get the stopgap measure included in a government funding bill that Congress has to pass this month.

GOP Sens. John Thune (S.D.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) have also introduced legislation that would provide protection for current DACA recipients in exchange for $25 billion in a border security trust fund.

Meanwhile Democrats are putting the onus on Trump to come up with an agreement after he rejected back-to-back bipartisan measures.

“President Trump, the ball is in your court. You broke it, you fix it. We Democrats have repeatedly offered compromise proposals that both sides should be proud of, but you have stood firmly in the way of progress,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a Tuesday CNN op-ed.

Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Donald Trump Heidi Heitkamp James Lankford Jeff Flake Jerry Moran John Thune Rob Portman

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