Senate Rejects Four Immigration Proposals

February 21, 2018

On Feb. 15, the Senate failed to pass an assortment of immigration proposals—all of which needed 60 votes in order to overcome a filibuster. The four proposals included: a measure from Sens. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) dealing with “Dreamers” and border security, an amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) addressing sanctuary cities, a bipartisan proposal from the Common Sense Coalition and a framework from the White House that was offered by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) allowed debate on several possible fixes for those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which includes about 700,000 people who face uncertainty about their deportation protections. President Donald Trump has said he would rescind those protections in early March, putting the onus on Congress to come up with a permanent solution. Each and every one of those possible fixes came up short in a series of votes, leaving the Senate without a clear path forward on immigration.

The McCain-Coons bill would have provided a path to citizenship for more than 1.8 million immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children—known as “Dreamers.” It would also require the Department of Homeland Security to secure the border by 2021. The bill was widely expected to fall short because it did not meet President Trump’s request for $25 billion in funding for the wall. It also did not include changes to two legal immigration programs that Trump wants to change. The measure failed by a 52 to 47 vote, with Democrats almost united in favor and most Republicans voting against it.

Instead of directly addressing DACA or border security, Sen. Toomey’s amendment would have penalized so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration policy, by withholding federal funding from those municipalities. This amendment largely mirrors Trump’s “four pillars” proposal for immigration. This vote failed 54 to 45, with Republicans and only a few Democrats supporting it.

The third proposal came from the Common Sense Caucus, a large bipartisan group led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). The plan had gained the endorsement of Senate Democratic leadership and was technically sponsored by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The Common Sense plan would have provided a path to citizenship for the 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children; offered $25 billion for border security and prevented DACA recipients from sponsoring their parents for legal status. It failed 54 to 45 with Democrats almost unanimously backing the plan, along with eight Republicans. However, the rest of the Republican conference and a handful of Democrats blocked the bill.

The fourth and final vote was a measure offered by Sen. Grassley based on a White House framework. The legislation would have provided a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children; offered $25 billion to fund a southern border wall and substantially curtailed family immigration and eliminated the diversity visa lottery program in such a way that would gut the legal immigration system. It failed by a vote of 39 to 60. Democrats opposed the bill en masse, joined by a notable number of Republicans, while most of the Republican conference and a couple Democrats supported it.

The White House has been telling Republican Senators that it expects the Supreme Court to overturn the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling extending protections for undocumented immigrants under the Obama-era DACA program. The implication is that what is now an indefinite grace period would quickly disappear. According to the administration, Democrats would be without leverage and be forced to accept more Republican plans in order to codify DACA.

Meanwhile, the House is currently discussing an immigration approach authored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to determine Republican conference support. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has stated that if there is majority-of-the-majority support for the Goodlatte approach, the House could move to the bill at the end of March. March 5 is the deadline the president established in September 2017 for Congress to act on DACA.

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