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Dealing with DACA and Dreamers: Immigration framework coming next week, senators say

Flanked by Senator Chuck Grassley (L) and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (R), U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Republican members of the Senate about immigration at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Flanked by Senator Chuck Grassley (L) and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (R), U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Republican members of the Senate about immigration at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON — A framework for immigration legislation that would beef up border security and provide a solution for undocumented “Dreamers” in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is likely to emerge next week, Republican senators said Thursday after a meeting with President Donald Trump.

Thom Tillis of North Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma, two of the six GOP senators to attend the White House meeting, said lawmakers and the administration had settled on a general framework and the plan would be shared with Democrats as early as Tuesday.

“We are all going to have an opportunity to get in a room next week and everybody’s going to see the single version,” Tillis told reporters at the Capitol.

Lawmakers are scrambling to provide a legislative solution — likely a path to citizenship or permanent legal status — for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers enrolled in DACA before Trump begins winding down the Obama-era program in early March. Republicans are insisting that any fix for DACA recipients be paired with border security upgrades and other GOP immigration priorities.

Democrats such as Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois have noted that more than 14,000 Dreamers have already lost their DACA benefits since Trump announced he would end the program.

“We’ve made a lot of progress on the DACA component of the bill but what has been missing are the border security and enforcement measures and I think we’ve come up with a great framework that we’ll invite the (Democrats) who want to work with us to put together,” Tillis said.

The North Carolina Republican said the framework would likely grant Dreamers legal status by incorporating a bill he introduced with Lankford as well as provisions in the so-called DREAM Act preferred by most Democrats, as well as Republicans like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

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“I think there’s an opportunity to see elements of both in the bill,” Tillis said.

Senators said the framework would likely include an appropriation for $1.6 billion to begin work on the first 74 miles of Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, a funding issue that has dragged on for months. The president has insisted that any immigration legislation should include money for his wall, a hallmark campaign promise.

“We need a physical border wall,” he said at the meeting, according to a White House transcript. “We’re going to have a wall to keep out deadly drug dealers, dangerous traffickers and violent criminal cartels.”

The framework will also deal with so-called chain migration, the process by which certain immigrants can sponsor family members for green cards, Lankford said, though he did not provide details.

“We have to end chain migration to prevent a future set of new chain migrants coming,” Sen. Tom Cotton said at the meeting. The Arkansas Republican, an immigration hawk, is urging the White House to insist that any deal include provisions of his bill that would slash the number of green cards for immigrants’ relatives and end the Diversity Visa lottery program.

Democrats involved in the ongoing negotiations have been frustrated because the administration has yet to provide them with their terms for a potential deal. Durbin has yet to see a list of the White House’s demands that he said he was promised before the holidays.

“Never came,” he told Roll Call on Wednesday.

Durbin said he’s intent on reaching a deal by Jan. 19, when a continuing resolution funding the government is set to expire. Several Senate Democrats have said they will continue to vote against short-term funding bills without a solution for Dreamers.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Trump will meet with GOP and Democratic lawmakers next week to discuss immigration issues.

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Tillis, who noted his own ongoing immigration meetings with lawmakers from both parties, said Democrats would be included in the process in due time.

“People can make an issue out of whether they got a document yesterday or today, but they’re all going to have this information next week, and if they genuinely want to solve this problem like I do, then they’re going to start negotiating in good faith,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will allow a vote on immigration and border security if negotiators reach a deal by the end of January. The Kentucky Republican’s preferred legislation is a bill sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa that would only provide Dreamers three years of temporary legal status, and which Democrats have called a nonstarter.

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