Key Senate Republicans have begun privately discussing the contours of an immigration plan to shield the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who will lose work permits and deportation protections starting early next year.
Preliminary talks show that influential GOP senators are eager to devise a legislative fix for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that could pass muster with both Democrats and President Donald Trump, who said he will start winding down the Obama-era program in March to force lawmakers to come up with a permanent DACA measure with significant border security and enforcement provisions attached.
In an interview, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, has convened a working group on immigration that includes himself and GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma, as well as other lawmakers. Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Jeff Flake of Arizona also are among the Republicans who have been engaged in the talks, according to sources.
“There’s a solution to be had there,” Cornyn said. “But we just need to get on with it.”
A bipartisan DACA deal is in no way imminent. Democrats are waiting for Republicans to offer their list of demands in exchange for legalizing Dreamers. And an immigration package that gets through the Senate, even with GOP sweeteners, may have trouble in the more conservative House.
But some outlines of an agreement are becoming clearer. For instance, the senators have all but ruled out including a mandatory workplace verification system known as E-Verify in a final DACA agreement, according to multiple lawmakers engaged in the talks.
Ideas that do remain in contention among this circle of Republicans include beefed-up border security provisions, limiting some chain migration and measures that one senator described as a “down payment” on shifting the U.S. immigration laws into a merit-based system, according to GOP senators. A spokesman said Grassley is gathering suggestions from other Senate Republicans on not only a DACA fix but enforcement provisions to “address the root cause of illegal immigration.”
“It’s a Rubik’s cube with five dimensions,” Perdue said.
The quiet movement toward a DACA deal comes amid a significant public rift between the parties — particularly between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats — over the fate of nearly 700,000 current DACA beneficiaries.