U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that Congress would address immigration early next year, including a program that gives immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as children the opportunity to become citizens.
Democrats demanded, but were denied, a vote this week on a measure that would allow an estimated 1.2 million immigrants to remain legally in the U.S.
McConnell, of Kentucky, told reporters on Capitol Hill, "We have a commitment on a bipartisan basis to address the DACA issue. We'll devote full time to that in January."
DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, was instituted by former President Barack Obama, and it protected nearly 800,000 immigrants from deportation, allowing them to legally live and work in the United States.
Trump rescinded the program in September and has given Congress until March 5 to agree on legislation that would provide equivalent protections to those offered under DACA.
"They embody the best in our nation: patriotism, hard work, perseverance," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Thursday of DACA beneficiaries. "We should not leave them to celebrate the holidays in fear."
McConnell said a working group that includes Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois also must "do other things" to "improve the legal immigration system," particularly with respect to what some call chain migration — a community- or extended-family-based process by which immigrants from a particular area follow others from that area to specific U.S. cities or neighborhoods.
Additionally, Republican lawmakers and President Donald Trump are pushing for more border security.
Democratic lawmakers who support the protection of DACA beneficiaries enjoy broad public support. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found that 62 percent of those surveyed said Congress should approve protections for DACA immigrants, while 19 percent said Congress should allow DACA to lapse.