Senate group to start immigration talks Thursday

A bipartisan group of senators will formally launch immigration talks on Thursday, marking the latest entry by Congress to try to capture the long-sought policy priority in recent years. 

The group will include Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) as well as Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), according to Durbin. All of the senators are members of the Judiciary panel.

A bipartisan immigration deal is a heavy lift, particularly in an election year. But the talks likely represent Democrats’ best shot at passing a bill after hopes of including immigration reform in a sweeping Democratic-only tax and spending bill, known as Build Back Better, ran aground last year. 

Instead of trying to craft an agreement from scratch, the group is going to use smaller, already introduced, bipartisan immigration-related bills to try to put together a package that could get the 60 votes needed to advance through the Senate.  

“We’ve got a list. We’ve got a starting list. There could be some more. But it’s a starting point. I’ve talked to four or five Republican senators today. There’s a genuine interest in doing something,” Durbin said while warning against the talks becoming “top-heavy.” 

The meeting will be the first formal sit-down that the group has had and comes after Durbin and Tillis told The Hill earlier this month that they intended to convene an immigration gang after the two-week April break.

Tillis said on Wednesday that the group was looking at “different proposals where we look like we’ve got bipartisan support.” 

“What you have to do obviously is you take a look at the proposals in isolation then you have to reconcile them against how you would put them together for something that would work as a package,” Tillis told The Hill. 

The nascent immigration talks come as lawmakers are entrenched in a fight over the administration’s decision to lift Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic public health policy that the Biden administration kept in place but now plans to lift on May 23.

Crafted in the early days of the pandemic, the border policy allows rapid expulsion of migrants in the name of public health and prevents them from seeking asylum. 

The administration’s decision has sparked fierce pushback from Republicans as well as some Democratic senators. But the administration is also facing pressure from a swath of Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates to stick by the decision, arguing that the Trump-era program is inhumane. 

A GOP demand for a vote to effectively block the administration from lifting Title 42, which has also gotten snagged by a court fight, has stalemated a deal for $10 billion in coronavirus aid. Republicans view the two issues as related because the administration’s decision to lift Title 42 comes as there is a broader coronavirus public health emergency still in effect. 

Asked if he would try to keep the Title 42 fight separate from the immigration group talks, Durbin replied, “As far as we can.” 

Tags Dick Durbin immigration John Cornyn Thom Tillis Title 42

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