Bipartisan group of senators holds immigration talks amid border surge

Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)

A bipartisan group of senators led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) met Wednesday afternoon to explore the possibility of immigration reform legislation that could address the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senators praised the meeting afterward as “constructive” and a promising start but said they didn’t reach agreement on any core elements.

The talks come amid what Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says is on pace to be the biggest migrant surge in 20 years. 

The starting points include the Republican demand that the asylum process at the southern border be streamlined so fewer migrant children are released into the United States to await the processing of immigration courts and the Democratic demand that immigrants who were brought into the country illegally at a young age, “Dreamers,” be given a path to citizenship. 

“It was a good meeting. It was a very positive meeting and bipartisan, obviously,” Durbin said. “We did not reach any conclusions. We want to pursue a number of elements: the bills that came over from the House as well as border security.” 

He was referring to two immigration reform bills passed by the House in March. 

The American Dream and Promise Act would let immigrants who entered the country as children earn permanent legal status and eventual citizenship.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would grant temporary legal status with the option to become permanent residents to farm workers and reform the H-2A agricultural guest worker program.

Durbin said that “many of the ideas are on the table, and we invite the administration to look at them, join us in this conversations.” 

Wednesday was the second time the group of senators has met this year.

It plans to schedule another meeting soon, but Durbin declined to set a deadline for reaching a deal.

On the issue of border security, Durbin said that “it’s not a simple issue of ‘do this and it’s fixed.’ It involves so many things.”

He said there needs to be cooperation with the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to stem the flow of migrants fleeing violence and poverty.

He also acknowledged Republican calls to reform the immigration courts in the United States.

“Most of these we’ve been through before. We got to sit down. We agree, I think we agree, on a bipartisan basis that we got to reform the system, as far as we can take it,” he added.

Durbin declined to talk about the prospect of attaching immigration reform to an infrastructure package that Democratic leaders plan to pass through the Senate under budget reconciliation to bypass an expected GOP filibuster.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, said he was encouraged by the meeting.

“It was a very constructive conversation with a group of interested individuals,” he said. 

Other lawmakers who attended Wednesday’s meeting were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). 

Collins, Murkowski and Graham were three of the 14 Senate Republicans who voted for a comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013.

Notably, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the bipartisan Gang of Eight that crafted the 2013 immigration bill, did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. 

Asked about Rubio’s absence, Durbin said, “I hope he will be” involved.

“I’ll ask him to,” he added. 

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Catherine Cortez Masto Chris Coons Dick Durbin Immigration John Cornyn Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Marco Rubio Michael Bennet Susan Collins

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