WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate will not consider an immigration bill as part of year-end legislation but will turn to a measure protecting immigrant youths known as “Dreamers” in January, No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn said on Monday.
Cornyn also said that if Congress cannot meet an early March deadline for passing legislation providing the protections against deportation for undocumented immigrants who were brought illegally into the United States as children, President Donald Trump could consider extending the deadline.
In interviews over the past several days, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides said that talks on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) have been quietly making progress.
“The president has given us enough time to deal with this before March and so I think that’s plenty of time and I expect us to meet it,” Cornyn told reporters. “If we can’t, then the president could extend the deadline if he chose to do so. But this is something we’re going to turn to, I’m sure, in January.”
Tensions between Republicans and Democrats over the issue of legislative protections for Dreamers increased this fall after Trump took a hard line on the conditions for a deal.
An intense lobbying campaign has been underway to urge lawmakers to find a permanent legislative fix after the Republican president ended the DACA program in September. He gave Congress until early March to come up with a legislative replacement.
On Capitol Hill, advocates have handed out buttons to lawmakers and aides with the number “122,” referring to the estimated number of Dreamers each day who already are losing the temporary legal status they had under DACA.
Immigration advocates have erected a huge monitor on the National Mall. Situated at the base of the U.S. Capitol for lawmakers and tourists alike to see, it broadcasts videos of Dreamers pleading for help. Meanwhile, seven DACA beneficiaries from Mexico, Argentina and Colombia were in the fourth day of a hunger strike to draw attention to the issue.
Republican Representative John Carter, a veteran of past immigration debates, said he worried Democrats want to go way beyond the scope of DACA and the approximately 800,000 Dreamers who at one time or another were covered by Democratic former President Barack Obama’s executive order.
“They’re talking Dream Act,” Carter said referring to the legislation offered by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. “And that number is about 2 million people. That’s too much.”
Past legislative attempts to allow Dreamers to get work permits and drivers licenses, open bank accounts and “come out of the shadows” have stalled as conservative Republicans and lobbying groups objected to giving “amnesty” to anyone who entered the United States illegally - even those who had no choice in the matter and have grown up here.
Democratic Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Republican demands for additional resources for immigration enforcement throughout the United States and not just at the border are a major problem.
Her concern is that the Trump administration might use the money to hire more federal agents to nab undocumented relatives of Dreamers.
“If you’re going to come in and go to hospitals and go to courtrooms and go to schools” in search of family members, “I’m not going to do that,” she said in an interview.
Reporting By Richard Cowan; additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Tom Brown and Caren Bohan