Bipartisan group of senators find agreement on DACA

Image: Graham, with Durbin, talks about possible legislation for so-called
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), flanked by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) (R), talks about possible legislation for so-called "dreamer" immigrant children at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst Copyright JONATHAN ERNST Reuters
Copyright JONATHAN ERNST Reuters
By Leigh Ann Caldwell and Frank Thorp V with NBC News
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A bipartisan working group of senators announced they reached an agreement on DACA, potentially moving a contentious process one step forward.

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan working group of senators announced Thursday that they had reached an agreement on several immigration issues, including DACA and border security, moving the politically perilous debate another small step forward.

The White House and many GOP lawmakers have yet to sign off on the details and Republicans who weren't part of the negotiations insisted there was no deal yet, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the GOP whip.

"Hopefully they'll contribute their ideas to the solution," Cornyn said of the group's agreement. "But it's not going to be done by just a subgroup of the Republican conference or the Democratic caucus.

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the two lead negotiators on the agreement, went to the White House to seek approval from the president but haven't yet received it.

The parameters of the agreement, which could still change as the process moves forward, revolve around the fate of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers, as well as border security, minor changes to family-based immigration and a reallocation of the 50,000 annual slots for the diversity visa.

The bipartisan group, whose other members included Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., have been meeting for several months on how to give immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, legal certainty. President Donald Trump gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a solution or the nearly 800,000 childhood arrivals would lose their legal status.

The proposal is an attempt to satisfy the concerns of both Republicans and Democrats who have competing visions and demands on immigration.

The outline, according to multiple Republican and Democratic sources, would provide a path to citizenship that would take 10 years for DACA recipients and those who were eligible for the program but didn't apply.

The 10-year wait is an attempt to remove political concerns from the discussion as Republicans fear that giving Dreamers citizenship further populates the Democratic voting base.

"It will be a full decade before any Dreamer gets citizenship and the right to vote. The raw politics is they won't be able to vote against Trump in 2020. Heck, they won't be able to support Oprah's re-election in 2024. Ten years is an eternity in politics," said a senior Senate aide who asked not to be named in order to speak openly.

In an attempt to satisfy conservative requests for border security and Trump's demand for a border wall, the measure would authorize $2.8 billion for border security, including Trump's $1.6 billion request for a border wall. The money would fund a partial construction of a fence along the border, technology and the training and retention of border patrol agents.

Consideration of how to handle the future of the parents of Dreamers was was described as the most difficult part of the negotiations. Conservatives want an end to family-based migration, the agreement won't allow the parents of Dreamers to apply for citizenship. They would, however, be able to stay in the country under a protected status.

And finally, the program would change the diversity visa lottery system as well. Some of the annual 50,000 slots will be used for people in the country who have lost their temporary protected status and some will be used for low immigration countries.

"President Trump called on Congress to solve the DACA challenge," Durbin said in a statement. "We have been working for four months and have reached an agreement in principle that addresses border security, the diversity visa lottery, chain migration/family reunification, and the Dream Act — the areas outlined by the President. We are now working to build support for that deal in Congress."

But some Republicans wanted nothing to do with this bill, including Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has been working closely with Trump adviser Stephen Miller on ideas that reduce legal immigration and beef up border security.

"It's a joke of a proposal," Cotton said.

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