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Senate fails to reach agreement on Dreamer protection

February 16, 2018 GMT

WASHINGTON — If there’s a sweet spot in the legislative race to extend legal protection for young immigrant Dreamers, the Senate failed to find it Thursday.

In a sequence of four separate tries, senators could not muster the necessary 60 votes to move forward on a combination package to continue legal status for 700,000 Dreamers — 8,000 or more on Connecticut — and give President Donald Trump the added border security upon which he campaigned in 2016.

“We bent over backwards to try to get Republican votes; we put up a bill that funded the Trump wall and Republicans still wouldn’t vote for it,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, who supported a bipartisan measure that was one of the four defeated.

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“It’s clear that Republicans and Trump don’t want a deal,” Murphy said in an interview after the vote. “This is a totally manufactured crisis that Trump could solve with the stroke of a pen.”

After the vote, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, said he was “heartbroken that the Dreamers remain at severe risk of mass, draconian deportation.”

Also, he said, “I am furious that President Trump threw a ticking time bomb to Congress, and then slammed the door on compromise at every turn.”

Trump’s preferred measure — a path to citizenship for 1.8 million youthful immigrants brought to this country illegally as children, plus an end to the visa lottery and what he terms “chain migration — also met defeat.

The bipartisan proposal, supported by Blumenthal in addition to Murphy, won the votes of seven Republicans, as well as opposition from three Democrats.

It would similarly have provided a path to citizenship for Dreamers plus those who did not win legal status under then-President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA.

Trump set the clock ticking for Dreamers last September when he canceled DACA. Absent Congressional action, most DACA recipient lose legal status as of March 5.

Two federal court injunctions this year have bolstered Dreamers’ hopes of resisting deportation. But the rulings are temporary, and the legal back-and-forth may take years to resolve.

The bipartisan plan would have kept the visa lottery, established by the State Department to encourage immigration from under-represented countries in Africa and elsewhere. The Trump measure, put forward by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would have curtailed it altogether.

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The Trump measure also would have limited admission of family members of legal immigrants to spouses and minor children.

The bipartisan proposal forged by a centrist group calling itself the Common Sense Coalition would also have kept the decades-old policy of “family reunification” (Trump’s “chain migration”). But it would have barred a citizenship path for parents of Dreamers who brought children illegally to the U.S.

And it would have committed $25 billion to added security for both the Southern and Northern borders, but would have dispensed it on a year-by-year basis based on annual progress reports by the Department of Homeland Security.

The bipartisan compromise “was very hard to stomach for me, but it was the best compromise that had a chance to pass the Senate,” Murphy said. “Republicans made it totally clear they have no interest in compromise. They just want to appeal to their base.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that President Trump would veto the bipartisan bill if it came to his desk.

Language in the measure “would have unleashed a new flood of minors getting smuggled across the border,” the statement said. “We need to solve the problem, not perpetuate it indefinitely.”

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