Congress takes on immigration issue amid election pressures

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate began a rare, open-ended debate on immigration and the fate of the “Dreamer” immigrants yesterday, and Republican senators said they’ll introduce President Donald Trump’s plan. Though his proposal has no chance of passage, Trump may be the most influential voice in the conversation.

If the aim is to pass a legislative solution, Trump will be a crucial and, at times, complicating player. His day-to-day turnabouts on the issues have confounded Democrats and Republicans and led some to urge the White House to minimise his role in the debate for fear he’ll say something that undermines the effort.

Yet his ultimate support will be vital if Congress is to overcome election-year pressures against compromise. No Senate deal is likely to see the light of day in the more conservative House without the president’s blessing and promise to sell compromise to his hard-line base.

Trump, thus far, has balked on that front.

“The Tuesday Trump versus the Thursday Trump, after the base gets to him,” is how Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz, a proponent of compromise, describes the president and the impact conservative voters and his hard-right advisers have on him. “I don’t know how far he’ll go, but I do think he’d like to fix it.”

People attend a protest in support of immigration in New York. – AFP

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, scheduled an initial procedural vote yesterday evening to commence debate. It is expected to succeed easily, and then the Senate will sort through proposals, perhaps for weeks.

Democrats and some Republicans say they want to help the ‘Dreamers,’ young immigrants who have lived in the US illegally since they were children and have only temporarily been protected from deportation by an Obama-era programme. Trump has said he wants to aid them and has even proposed a path to citizenship for 1.8 million, but in exchange wants $25 billion for his proposed US-Mexico border wall plus significant curbs to legal immigration.

McConnell agreed to the open-ended debate, a Senate rarity in recent years, after Democrats agreed to vote to end a three-day government shutdown they’d forced over the issue. They’d initially demanded a deal toward helping Dreamers, not a simple promise of votes.

To prevail, any plan will need 60 votes, meaning substantial support from both parties is mandatory. Republicans control the chamber 51-49 but GOP Senator John McCain of Arizona has been home for weeks battling brain cancer.

Seven GOP senators said late Sunday that they will introduce Trump’s framework, which they called a reasonable compromise that has White House backing. The group includes Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Cornyn of Texas and Iowa’s Charles Grassley.

Democrats adamantly oppose Trump’s plan, particularly its barring of legal immigrants from sponsoring their parents or siblings to live in the US. It has no chance of getting the 60 votes needed to survive. The plan will give GOP lawmakers a chance to stake out a position, but it could prove an embarrassment to the White House if some Republicans join Democrats and it’s rejected by a substantial margin.

Another proposal likely to surface, backed by some Republicans and many Democrats, would give Dreamers a chance at citizenship but provide no border security money or legal immigration restrictions. It too would be certain to fail.

Votes are also possible on a compromise by a small bipartisan group led by Senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-SC. It would provide possible citizenship for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, $2.7 billion for border security and some changes in legal immigration rules. McCain and Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., would offer legal status but not necessarily citizenship, and require tougher border security without promising wall money.