CAPITOL HILL - The U.S. Senate began a series of votes on immigration reform Thursday after a war of words erupted between the White House and a bipartisan group of lawmakers over a proposal to help young undocumented immigrants and boost border security.
The White House signaled its intention to veto the measure if it ever got to the president's desk. “That bill is officially, if it wasn’t already obvious, DOA [dead on arrival],” said a senior administration official in a background call with reporters referencing the bipartisan #ImmigrationReform proposed legislation.
In an earlier statement, the White House said the measure “would produce a flood of new illegal immigration” and “undermine the safety and security of American families” by “weakening border security and undermining existing immigration laws.”
Late Wednesday, 16 senators unveiled compromise legislation that would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, boost border security funding by $25 billion, and focus immigration enforcement efforts on criminals, threats to national security, and those arriving illegally after the end of June.
“This is the one and only bill that deals with immigration issues with broad bipartisan support,” Republican Susan Collins of Maine said at a news conference.
“This is a narrow bill designed to confront two (immigration) issues,” Maine Independent Angus King said. “Let’s not kid ourselves. This is the only bill that has a chance to get through the United States Senate.”
Hours earlier, the Department of Homeland Security slammed the Senate proposal's directive on which undocumented immigrants should be targeted for removal as “the end of immigration enforcement in America.”
“Who the hell wrote this?” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said. “It sounded like it came from a political hack, not DHS.”
Graham added that so long as immigration hardliners dominate in the Trump administration, “We're going nowhere fast (on immigration reform) at warp speed.”
President Donald Trump backs sweeping reforms that include limits on family-based immigration and prioritizing newcomers who have advanced work skills.
Trump's immigration agenda is encapsulated in legislation Republican lawmakers introduced earlier this week. Democratic senators countered with a proposal that pairs help for young immigrants with limited border security enhancements.
Neither partisan bill is expected to get the three-fifths backing required to advance in the chamber, and conservative Republicans joined the Trump administration in criticizing the bipartisan compromise, calling it a de facto amnesty for million of current and future undocumented immigrants.
“The race is on,” Oklahoma Senator James Lankford said. “If you can get into the country and across the border by June 30 of this year, you are in and you have amnesty. That (covers) every single individual in the country unlawfully.”
Democrats, meanwhile, accused Trump of blocking bipartisan solutions.
“President Trump … has stood in the way of every single proposal that has had a chance of becoming law,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. “Now President Trump seems eager to spike (defeat) the latest bipartisan compromise, potentially, with a veto. Why? Because it isn’t 100 percent of what the president wants on immigration.”
Schumer added: “That’s not how democracy works. You don’t get 100 percent of what you want in a democracy, maybe (you do) in a dictatorship.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, argued the president’s case for major changes to immigration law.
“The DACA issue is just a symptom of our broken immigration system,” McConnell said. “So the president has made clear, and I strongly agree, that any legislation must also treat the root causes and reform legal immigration. And it must also include common sense steps to ensure the safety of the American people.”
Last year, the president rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama administration policy that allowed young undocumented immigrants to work and study in the United States. Trump gave lawmakers six months to craft a permanent legislative replacement.
Trump put an end to DACA benefits beginning March 5. While two courts have acted to extend the deadline, DACA beneficiaries could be at risk of deportation unless Congress acts.