President Donald Trump has suggested that Congress has reached its “last chance” to make a deal to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
“Negotiations on DACA have begun,” Mr Trump tweeted, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme that he rescinded in September. “Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal. Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle.”
The Obama-era policy lets young immigrants who were brought to the US illegally as minors – so-called Dreamers – live and work in the US without fear of deportation.
“This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th,” he added, calling attention to the deadline he has given Congress to come up with a permanent legislative solution.
The Senate on Monday launched its much-anticipated immigration debate, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested will be wrapped up by the end of the week.
“We have other things to do,” he told reporters in response to a question about whether he’d allow the floor debate to continue beyond the week.
Mr McConnell asserted that senators are well-versed in the issue and have been negotiating behind closed doors for months.
“We spent three months talking to the Democrats about this,” he said of recent talks.
Immigration has been a troublesome issue for Congress, with former President Barack Obama having implemented DACA only after a lack of congressional action on immigration reform.
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“Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal,” the President added on Twitter. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle. This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th.”
It is uncertain whether senators can reach an agreement that will receive the 60 votes needed for the bill to clear the chamber. Any measure approved by the Senate would also need to be approved by the more conservative House of Representatives.
Mr Trump has offered a proposal that would grant about 1.8m Dreamers legal status, including a path to citizenship – in exchange for increased immigration enforcement, the construction of his long-promised border wall, and a restructuring of legal immigration channels that moves away from reuniting families and gives priority to higher-skilled immigrants.
But the wall, which is popular among Mr Trump’s base of supporters, has been a sticking point in negotiations.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake is anticipated to file an amendment as early as Tuesday that incorporates elements of the President’s proposal.
According to the newspaper The Hill, it would include a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship for roughly 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children in exchange for $25 billion in border security funding, similar to the White House framework.
It would impose new limits on family-based immigration, barring “dreamers” from being able to sponsor their parents for legal status, and limiting overall sponsorship for family-based visas to spouses and children, The Hill said.
Mr Flake’s plan would bring major changes to the immigration system – but they would still be less severe than what the President is calling for, Politico reported.. A fallback plan that could pass the Senate is said to be in the works.
On Monday, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, a key immigration negotiator, suggested that Mr Trump has impeded the ability of Congress to reach a deal to protect Dreamers.
“Nailing the President down has been next to impossible,” Mr Durbin told reporters. “And even when we have an agreement we think it lasts only for hours before he throws it out and starts it again.”