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Both sides of immigration fight unhappy with Senate debate

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Neither side of the immigration debate is happy as the Senate enters its third formal day of debate on a replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Immigration hawks are angry that the Republicans’ starting volley in the Senate debate reallocates visas from the diversity lottery and family unification programs, rather than cutting legal immigration.

“There is a sense of frustration from a lot of people who supported President Trump from the beginning of his campaign, and we’re very concerned about what we’re seeing in terms of immigration,” said Jenny Beth Martin, chairwoman of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.

{mosads}Hard-liners within the Senate say that the GOP proposal, based on the White House framework, is the furthest that Republicans are willing to compromise.

“The president’s framework bill is not an opening bid for negotiations. It’s a best and final offer,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Tuesday on Fox News.

But progressives who see the wide-ranging bill as a non-starter are starting to grow impatient that their own, narrower proposal — restoring DACA-style protections for immigrants brought to the county illegally as children in exchange for border-security measures — isn’t getting a fair shake.

“Three amendments are potentially in the mix for consideration on Democratic side — all three are bipartisan, instructive on how willing Democrats are to try to find a solution,” said Marshall Fitz, managing director for immigration at the Emerson Collective, a progressive policy organization.

“None of the Republican amendments have the faintest veneer of bipartisanship,” he added.

Conservatives want the House to set the tone by passing Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) hard-line immigration bill, then use the legislation to hammer Democratic senators up for reelection in states won by Trump.

Progressives want to take advantage of the Senate amendment process opened up by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to pass a bipartisan agreement that pairs relief for “Dreamers” with narrow border security provisions, putting pressure on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Trump to accept the Senate version.

But any bill that reaches the House floor will need support from at least half the House Republicans. It’s unlikely that any bill that could garner 60 votes in the Senate could make the House floor.

The left is blaming Ryan for the impasse, saying he’s too beholden to his party’s conservative wing.

“This could be done in 48 hours. The problem is Paul Ryan is an awful Speaker,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). “He has zero concept about how to control his own caucus, he has zero concept about how to push an agenda, and all he’s trying to do instead of actually legislate is really to save his ass.”

Democrats are getting some cover from their base, although progressive grass-roots organizers say they’ve already given up too much.

“The fact that Democrats went from a couple billion in border funding to all the way up to Trump’s [$25 billion] request is a pretty big stretch,” said Tyler Moran, managing director of D.C. Immigration Hub.

Despite Democratic border security concessions, the gap between the Goodlatte bill and the bipartisan Senate proposals is enormous.

But immigration hawks see the Goodlatte bill as a concession, too, since it would eventually provide legal status to roughly 800,000 DACA recipients.

Still, Goodlatte’s bill only grants limited three-year renewable residence permits to existing DACA recipients, rather than giving them a path to citizenship.

“The Goodlatte bill, as it currently stands, I don’t have a problem with any of the border security stuff,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who said he supports a DACA fix. 

“I don’t think it’s fair to have them keep having to circle back every three years. It’s pretty hard to plan your life even if you’re 99 percent certain it’s an automatic renewal, that there’s the potential that three years from now you might not be renewed,” he added.

Barton said that 85 percent of Americans support a path to citizenship for Dreamers.

Still, the Senate bills that trade DACA for border security are unlikely to win approval from Trump’s base.

“I think there could be a compromise down the line,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for NumbersUSA, an organization that wants immigration numbers reduced. “But the chances of a compromise that I would be supportive of are slim to none.”

“That’s not something that we would support,” Chmielenski added. “If there’s going to be a compromise in the Senate, it looks like it would be one of those skinny proposals.”

The White House proposed a four-pillar approach last month, with DACA protections, border security provisions, and reforms to family unification and the diversity visa lottery.

“The president put on the table a responsible offer. There are reasons to not like it, there are reasons to support it and not support it,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), an experienced immigration negotiator.

“In essence, there’s an agreement to deal with four issues. Now, those four issues have a lot of latitude, you can go on one extreme to the other in each of those four issues, but that’s what the president put on the table,” he added.

Democrats consider the president’s proposal, introduced in the Senate by Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), John Cornyn (Texas), James Lankford (Okla.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), David Perdue (Ga.), Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa), unnaceptable because of the way it handles those four issues, although it also offers legal status to 1.8 million Dreamers.

On family reunification, for example, the bill would limit Dreamers’ ability to sponsor their parents for some form of residence or deportation relief — effectively breaking up the families.

And the Senate process has angered activists on the left, since it includes proposals that don’t address the issue of Dreamers. Instead, some proposals have focused on issues like so-called sanctuary cities.

“If nothing passes, it’s because Trump is insisting on these poison pills and Republicans are failing to stand up to them,” said Moran, the D.C. Immigration Hub’s managing director.

But Martin, the Tea Party activist, said amnesty risks creating further incentives for illegal immigration.

“Congress is putting the cart before the horse,” she said. “They’re providing this legal status for them but putting into some future point border security.”

Tags Bob Goodlatte Chuck Grassley DACA Donald Trump immigration policy James Lankford Joe Barton John Cornyn Joni Ernst Mario Diaz-Balart Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Ruben Gallego Thom Tillis Tom Cotton

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