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Fate of 'Dreamers' Unclear After Senate Rejects Series of Immigration Bills

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Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, arrives at the Capitol in September. Thursday, despite please from Grassley, the Senate defeated an immigration bill that had been backed by the White House.

The Senate rejected a series of immigration proposals before a self-imposed Friday deadline, leaving lawmakers with no plan to address the fate of an estimated 1.8 million young "Dreamer" immigrants brought to the United States as children.

The defeat follows a rocky 24 hours of negotiations on a bipartisan bill that failed following a veto threat from President Trump. By a 39-60 vote, senators rejected a White House-backed plan that became a partisan lightning rod after Trump insisted his plan was the only one he would sign.

Ahead of the failed vote, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, implored senators to vote for the White House bill.

"This is it in a sense," Grassley said on the Senate floor. "The only plan that can become law because the president said he would sign it. This is it. This is your last chance."

Republicans abandoned the bipartisan plan following the White House veto threat.


That plan, negotiated by a group of roughly 22 Republicans and Democrats, included a 12-year path to citizenship for the 1.8 million Dreamers. Some 700,000 members of that group have registered with the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump has promised to end early next month.

The bill's other main components included $25 billion to pay for Trump's long-sought border wall and limits on which family members Dreamers would be able to sponsor for citizenship.

The bill -- which under a specially adopted rule required 60 votes to advance -- failed 54-45. All but three Democrats voted in favor of the plan; among those voting against the bill was California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris.

"While this bill would put Dreamers on a pathway toward citizenship, the appropriation of $25 billion for a border wall is a waste of taxpayer money," Harris said in a statement. "A wall will not secure our border and I remain concerned those billions of dollars may also be used to implement this Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda – one that targets California and its residents."

California's senior senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, voted for the compromise bill. After it failed, she tweeted, "Republicans have blocked every solution for Dreamers. I'm beyond heartbroken, I’m disgusted." But she said efforts to protect Dreamers would continue.

A third proposal, by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, and John McCain, R-Arizona, would have created a path to citizenship for the Dreamers and did not include funds for Trump's border wall. That bill failed by 52-47. Both Feinstein and Harris voted for the legislation.

It is unclear whether those currently protected under DACA will immediately lose legal protections if the White House repeals the program as planned on March 5. Court orders by a pair of federal judges in New York and California have blocked the administration's plans to end the program, meaning the government is required to continue processing renewal requests from people already enrolled.

Senators Frustrated

The veto threat and other White House intervention frustrated Democrats and those Republicans who helped craft the bipartisan bill. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., expressed irritation that the White House was relying heavily on hard-line immigration advisers.

"You've got the most extreme characters in town running the show," Graham told reporters. "What do you expect?"

The GOP-written Grassley bill would have allowed 1.8 million immigrants a chance to apply for citizenship. In exchange, the bill scaled back current legal immigration by ending the visa lottery system and cutting family-based immigration policies, which the president and many conservatives refer to as "chain migration."

In a statement Wednesday, Trump said he would reject any bill that did not meet his four pillars: "A lasting solution on DACA, ending chain migration, cancelling the visa lottery, and securing the border through building the wall and closing legal loopholes."

"I am asking all senators, in both parties, to support the Grassley bill and to oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill these four pillars," Trump said in a statement. "That includes opposing any short-term 'Band-Aid' approach."

Tensions were high as senators began to rally around Trump's demands on Wednesday. A visibly frustrated Grassley vented to reporters that Democrats needed to drop their opposition to the family-related portions of the bill and embrace the only offer Trump has embraced.

"The Democrats have been pleading for months and months and months for justice on this," Grassley said. "Now you've got a compassionate president who has gone way beyond what they ever thought he would do. Why would they turn it down?"

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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