Seven GOP Senators Back Bipartisan Immigration Bill, Graham Says

(Bloomberg) -- Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says he’s won added GOP backing for the bipartisan immigration plan that was rejected by President Donald Trump last week.

Graham and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois led bipartisan negotiations for the plan they’re introducing as early as Wednesday night. Their measure provides protection against deportation for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, a $2.7 billion border security plan and changes to immigration law.

In a statement, Graham said new Senate GOP backers will include Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Mike Rounds of South Dakota. Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Colorado’s Cory Gardner signed on to the plan last week and also are co-sponsors.

“I’m very pleased that our bipartisan proposal continues to gain support among my Republican colleagues,” Graham said in a statement. “Our hope is to bring forward a proposal that leads to a solution the president can embrace."

Durbin and Graham have said they continue to hold out hope that the Trump administration will agree to the plan and allow it to be enacted as part of a temporary government spending measure that would avert a government shutdown late Friday.

Republican leaders say immigration legislation should move separately. Democrats in both chambers are threatening to withhold support for the spending measure unless the deportation protections for young immigrants known as "dreamers" are included.

Path to Citizenship

The new legislation would provide the young immigrants with permanent protection against expulsion and allow them a pathway to citizenship in as few as 10 years. They would be ineligible for welfare or other federal assistance for the first five years that they have legal status.

The measure would end a diversity visa lottery that Trump wants to abolish. Half of the visas would be reallocated under a “merit-based” system to countries that are currently underrepresented in U.S. visas. The other half would be given to recipients of temporary protected status, and after that backlog is cleared they would be used under the merit-based system.

The proposal contains $2.7 billion for border security, including the planning, design and construction of a border barrier and added surveillance and technology. It also includes restrictions on family-based immigration for the dreamers who are shielded from deportation by former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The DACA beneficiaries’ parents would be eligible for three-year renewable work permits, but could not become U.S. citizens.

Some of the Republican co-sponsors made clear they see support for the measure as a starting point. Rounds said he wants to make adjustments including an e-verify requirement to prevent employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, more border resources and a “framework” for more work visas including those for seasonal workers who get H2B visas.

“These are the provisions required for me to support the bill in final form so we can get to the next phase, in which permanently increasing the cap of H2B visas will be a top priority for me,” Rounds said in a joint statement with the other sponsors.

‘Doomed to Fail’

Meanwhile, two Republican participants in the talks who don’t back the proposal -- James Lankford of Oklahoma and Thom Tillis of North Carolina -- issued a joint statement saying the Graham-Durbin plan falls short because it doesn’t do enough to bolster border security, although they think all sides are “closer to a deal that we’ve ever been.” The two said, however, that the proposal is "doomed to fail" and that it’s “counterproductive” to demand a vote on it to avoid a shutdown.

Three Republicans who didn’t join the talks said they opposed the plan because it doesn’t "fix our porous border" and doesn’t end family preferences for immigrants. Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia said in a statement the proposal "would do nothing to solve the underlying problem in our current immigration system."

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly met with a variety of Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the Capitol Wednesday to try to get negotiations with the administration -- and conservative Republicans -- back on track.

Kelly told the lawmakers in the meetings and said later on Fox News that Trump shifted from his campaign positions calling for a wall across the full length of the southern border and an end to the DACA program.

“I pointed out to all of the members of the room that they all say things during the course of a campaign that may or may not be fully informed,” Kelly said Wednesday. “Campaign to governing are two different things and this president has been very, very flexible in terms of what is in the realm of the possible.”

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