ARIZONA NEWS

Bipartisan group of senators, including Flake, proposes new immigration bill

Feb 15, 2018, 5:31 AM
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., walks to his office, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, at Capitol Hill in Washingto...

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., walks to his office, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, at Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) announced Wednesday that a group of senators had reached an agreement on a bipartisan immigration bill.

The bill, titled the “Immigration Security and Opportunity Act,” aimed to balance Democrats’ fight to offer citizenship to Dreamers with President Donald Trump’s demands for billions to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

It was sponsored by Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Angus King (I-Maine).

Flake is listed as one of the co-sponsors, along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V) and Cory Gardner (R-CO).

In a statement, Flake said he was “pleased” to be a part of the effort.

“A broadly-supported, bipartisan bill that protects DACA recipients and strengthens border security ought to be able to get 60 votes in the Senate,” he said in a statement.

“Let’s put it on the floor and work together to get it passed.”

According to several senators, the centrist proposal would grant a 10- to 12-year route to citizenship for Dreamers, with Graham saying it would cover 1.8 million of them.

That’s the same number Trump has suggested helping with his own wider-ranging but more restrictive proposal. Dreamers are young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and still have no permanent protection from deportation.

The plan would provide $25 billion over a decade, $2.5 billion annually, for a wall and other border security measures, the same total Trump has requested.

It would bar Dreamers from sponsoring their parents for citizenship, far narrower than Trump’s proposal to prevent all legal immigrants from bringing parents and siblings to the U.S.

The moderates’ measure does not alter a lottery that distributes about 55,000 visas annually to people from diverse countries. Trump has proposed ending it and redistributing its visas to other immigrants, including some who are admitted based on job skills, not family ties.

“The diversity lottery is kind of toxic politically because of some of the things said by the president,” said Graham, a reference to a vulgar description Trump used for African countries during a discussion of immigration.

While the measure sprang from around two dozen senators with centrist views on the issue and was winning support from many Democrats, it faced an uncertain fate.

Leaders were trying to schedule votes on it — as well as three other immigration proposals — for Thursday, which they hoped would bring the chamber’s showdown over the hot-button issue to a close.

But Trump in the past has urged lawmakers to oppose any plan that doesn’t meet his more stringent demands, which include curbs on legal immigration and the abolition of a visa lottery.

There were also qualms among Democrats. The party’s No. 2 Senate leader, Richard Durbin of Illinois, said some Democrats had “serious issues” with parts of the plan. Those concerns focused on its spending for Trump’s wall and its bar against Dreamers sponsoring their parents for legal residency.

“We’re not there yet,” Durbin said of the 60 votes the proposal would need for approval.

So far, no other proposals from either side seem able to do that. Republicans control the chamber 51-49, though Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), has missed the last several weeks while battling cancer.

Also in play is a more modest plan by McCain and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

It would let many Dreamers qualify for permanent residency and direct federal agencies to more effectively control the border by 2020. But it doesn’t offer a special citizenship pathway for Dreamers, raise border security funds or make sweeping changes in legal immigration rules.

The White House said it opposes the McCain-Coons plan, saying it would “increase illegal immigration” and cause other problems.

Another vote will be taken on a proposal by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would add language blocking federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” communities that don’t cooperate with federal efforts to enforce immigration laws. The amendment is considered sure to lose.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Bipartisan group of senators, including Flake, proposes new immigration bill