Bipartisan group of senators holds immigration talks amid border surge

Bipartisan group of senators holds immigration talks amid border surge
© Bloomberg/Pool

A bipartisan group of senators led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick DurbinDick DurbinSenators scramble to save infrastructure deal Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan MORE (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 MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasHillicon Valley: Tech groups urge Congress to 'dig deeper' on Facebook role in Capitol riot | Kaseya denies paying hackers for decryption key | Tech coalition expands tracking of extremist content Hillicon Valley: Amazon employees petition company to investigate discrimination allegations | ACLU calls for investigation into Alaska official over tweets | Electric cars to outsell combustion vehicles by 2036 Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks MORE says is on pace to be the biggest migrant surge in 20 years. 

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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.

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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 CoonsChris Andrew CoonsKavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Key Biden ally OK with dropping transit from infrastructure package Democrats criticize FBI's handling of tip line in Kavanaugh investigation MORE (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 CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSchumer urges GOP to ignore Trump: He's 'rooting for failure' Trump pressures McConnell, GOP to ditch bipartisan talks until they have majority Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal MORE (R-Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiWhy Biden's Interior Department isn't shutting down oil and gas Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (R-Alaska), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden DACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Senate braces for a nasty debt ceiling fight MORE (R-S.C.), John CornynJohn CornynDACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Schumer feels pressure from all sides on spending strategy Data reveal big opportunity to finish the vaccine job MORE (R-Texas), Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoWestern US airports face jet fuel shortage Overnight Energy: Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee | Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan | NJ requiring public water systems to replace lead pipes in 10 years Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan MORE (D-Nev.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetHow Sen. Graham can help fix the labor shortage with commonsense immigration reform For true American prosperity, make the child tax credit permanent Colorado lawmaker warns of fire season becoming year-round MORE (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 RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks MORE (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.