Group of senators reaches immigration deal on ‘Dreamers,’ wall

A group of senators reached a bipartisan agreement Wednesday on immigration.
Andrew Harnik/Associated Press
A group of senators reached a bipartisan agreement Wednesday on immigration.

WASHINGTON — A group of senators reached a bipartisan agreement Wednesday aimed at balancing Democrats’ fight to offer citizenship to young ‘‘Dreamer’’ immigrants with President Trump’s demands for billions of dollars to build his coveted border wall with Mexico, lawmakers said.

But though the measure sprang from around two dozen senators with centrist views on the issue and was winning support from many Democrats, it faced an uncertain fate.

While not specifically mentioning the bipartisan pact, Trump urged lawmakers to oppose any plan that doesn’t meet his more stringent demands, which include curbs on legal immigration and the abolition of a visa lottery. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, warned that lawmakers need to address Trump’s entire proposal, saying, ‘‘We need to take the president seriously.’’


There were also qualms among Democrats. The party’s No. 2 Senate leader, Richard Durbin of Illinois, said some Democrats had ‘‘serious issues’’ with parts of the plan. Those concerns focused on its spending for Trump’s wall and its bar against Dreamers sponsoring their parents for legal residency.

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‘‘We’re not there yet,’’ Durbin said of the 60 votes the proposal would need for approval.

So far, none of the other competing immigration proposals from either side seems able to do that. Republicans control the chamber 51-49, though Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has missed the last several weeks while battling cancer.

The bipartisan proposal was emerging as senators spent a third day of debate largely as they spent the first two — with the chamber floor mostly empty. Other than an initial roll call allowing formal debate to begin, there have been no other votes while party leaders talk behind the scenes about scheduling votes on specific proposals.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he wants the Senate to finish considering immigration legislation this week. Final showdown votes were possible Thursday.


According to several senators, the centrist proposal would grant a 10- to 12-year route to citizenship for Dreamers, with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., saying it would cover 1.8 million of them.

That’s the same number Trump has suggested helping with his own wider-ranging but more restrictive proposal. Dreamers are young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and still have no permanent protection from deportation.

The plan would provide $25 billion over a decade, $2.5 billion annually, for a wall and other border security measures, the same total Trump has requested. It would bar Dreamers from sponsoring their parents for citizenship, far narrower than Trump’s proposal to prevent all legal immigrants from bringing parents and siblings to the U.S.

The moderates’ measure does not alter a lottery that distributes about 55,000 visas annually to people from diverse countries. Trump has proposed ending it and redistributing its visas to other immigrants, including some who are admitted based on job skills, not family ties.

‘‘The diversity lottery is kind of toxic politically because of some of the things said by the president,’’ said Graham, a reference to a vulgar description Trump used for African countries during a discussion of immigration.


The White House issued a written statement by Trump urging senators to back his bill and ‘‘oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill’’ his demands. But the statement did not say Trump would veto a bill that fell short of them.

A GOP measure tracking Trump’s proposal and backed by McConnell has been introduced and was expected to receive a vote.

Few expect Trump’s plan to attract 60 votes, but Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said he believed the bipartisan proposal could.

If that happens, Rounds said, ‘‘We’ll allow the president to determine whether or not it moves in the direction that he wants.’’

Also in play is a more modest plan by McCain and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and supported by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. It would let many Dreamers qualify for permanent residence and direct federal agencies to more effectively control the border by 2020. But it doesn’t offer a special citizenship pathway for Dreamers, raise border security funds or make sweeping changes in legal immigration rules.

In another statement, the White House said it opposes the McCain-Coons plan, saying it would ‘‘increase illegal immigration’’ and cause other problems.