Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) formally introduced a bill that would grant permanent legal status to undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” and start bolstering security along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the measure would not immediately authorize spending the $25 billion President Trump is seeking to fortify the border with new wall and fence construction. Some Republicans are seeking at least $30 billion.
The McCain-Coons plan also would grant legal status to dreamers who have been in the country since 2013 — a larger pool of undocumented immigrants than the 1.8 million Trump supports legalizing.
The bill says nothing about curbing family-based legal migration or making changes to the diversity lottery program — two other priorities for Trump and conservative Republicans.
We are coming up on yet another funding deadline at 12:01 a.m. on Friday. Once again Trump is trying to nix a deal that would have a large bipartisan majority in both houses. He tweeted, “Any deal on DACA that does not include STRONG border security and the desperately needed WALL is a total waste of time.” Without attributing too much precision to Trump’s outbursts, it is noteworthy that he did not say he would veto such a bill. While he suggests Democrats don’t want a deal, his own objections, the ongoing presence of anti-immigrant zealot Stephen Miller and the strong contingent of anti-immigrant hawks trying to use Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to ratchet down legal immigration leave little doubt as to who is throwing sand in the gears here.
In a written statement, McCain explained:
The legislation is a Senate companion bill to the Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Representatives Will Hurd (R-TX) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA) to protect Dreamers from deportation and provide a pathway to citizenship while implementing new border security measures. The USA Act already has 54 co-sponsors in the House — an even split of 27 Republicans and 27 Democrats.
“For months, I have been calling on my colleagues to complete a bipartisan budget agreement to lift the caps on defense spending and fully fund the military. While reaching a deal cannot come soon enough for America’s service members, the current political reality demands bipartisan cooperation to address the impending expiration of the DACA program and secure the southern border,” said Senator McCain. “Our legislation, which already has broad support in the House of Representatives, would address the most urgent priorities of protecting Dreamers, strengthening border security, alleviating the backlog in immigration courts, and addressing the root causes of illegal immigration.
The dynamics have changed a bit from the last shutdown, however, since Democrats were able to extract a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to put immigration on the floor if there is not a resolution of the DACA issue before the Friday deadline. Since a full-blown DACA deal is unlikely, Republicans can, once more, vote on a straight, party-line basis for yet another continuing resolution, but then be faced with an immigration debate and open debate process. At some point, McCain and Coons can offer their bill as an amendment, potentially gathering 60 votes.
The McCain-Coons bill seems to be a way of forcing compromise. Coons hinted as much in his joint statement with McCain. “I have been and remain very encouraged by the bipartisan negotiations toward an immigration compromise that Senators [Susan] Collins and [Joe] Manchin have hosted through the Common Sense Coalition, and I plan to continue working with that group to try and find a way forward,” he said. “The purpose of the legislation I’m introducing today with Senator McCain is to highlight this existing, bipartisan House bill and to add another viable, bipartisan option to the table.”
The 30-some senators supposedly working on a compromise with Collins and Manchin have not reached consensus, but now Republicans are faced with voting with Democrats, say on a slightly more Trump-friendly compromise (dreamers’ citizenship, plus the wall and border funding), rather than seeing an even less Trump-friendly bill (McCain-Coons) pass. In short, they can get rid of the gratuitous anti-immigrant items (ending the lottery, limiting family reunification) but get Trump his wall.
If that is the play, logically it should work. However, do not underestimate the ability of McConnell, in concert with anti-immigrant Trump loyalists in the Senate, to try to block such a deal. When they try that, however, let’s not forget who wants a deal and who doesn’t.