By Andrew Soboeiro
As the fate of DACA recipients hangs in the balance, any sign that Congress will pass a bipartisan immigration bill is cause for hope. Thus when Senate leaders began discussing three comprehensive immigration proposals, those who support immigrant rights eagerly waited to see which would pass— only to be disappointed when all three failed. By examining these bills, we can get a sense of what is holding Congress back from addressing immigration issues, as well as what a successful solution might look like.
Last week, the Senate voted on a total of three proposals to provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children. Under Senate rules, each bill had to receive at least 60 votes to move forward. The proposals were:
- The “Common Sense” Bill: Organized by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), this bill came closer to passage than any other. It offered 1.8 million Dreamers a path to citizenship, with the stipulation that they could not sponsor their parents for green cards. It also reserved $25 billion to spend improving border security. The bill originally looked like it was going to pass, but after the president threatened to veto it, it lost the support of moderate Republicans. It ultimately received 54 votes, including 46 from Democrats and 8 from Republicans.
- The McCain-Coons Proposal: Proposed by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE), this bill also offered citizenship to 1.8 million Dreamers while taking some modest measures to improve border security. It received 52 votes, with all Democrats but one supporting it and all but four Republicans opposing it.
- The Grassley Bill: Proposed by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), this bill was closely modeled after the demands that the president made in his State of the Union address. It would have given a path to citizenship to 1.8 million dreamers while reserving $25 billion to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. It would also have abolished the diversity visa lottery while limiting family immigration sponsorship. Only 39 Senators voted for this bill, including 36 Republicans and 3 Democrats.
After the failure of all three bills, it’s not clear what Congress will do next, if anything. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has suggested that he will force a vote on a bill that would extend DACA for three years. But even if this is successful, it would only be a temporary solution, and it wouldn’t protect the roughly 1.1 million Dreamers who are ineligible for the program in its current form. The long-term fate of America’s youngest immigrants is likely to remain in doubt.
Reading the Tea Leaves
While it is unclear whether or when Congress will finally address this issue, the details of these three bills do give us a glimpse of what a successful solution might look like. In particular, it is promising that all three included protections for the full 1.8 million Dreamers. Given that the vast majority of Senators voted for at least one of these bills, there appears to be a bipartisan consensus that Dreamers deserve a chance to become US citizens. It is also notable that most Democrats voted for the border security measures in the “Common Sense” bill, suggesting that they are willing to support such policies, and maybe even a wall, if it means protecting Dreamers.
The real sticking point appears to be legal immigration policy. The Trump Administration was unwilling to support any bill that did not limit diversity visas or family sponsorship, and conservative Republicans would not break with the president on this. Meanwhile, Democrats and some moderate Republicans wouldn’t support a bill that contained such changes. Unless the two parties can compromise on these issues, Congress is unlikely to reach a lasting immigration deal.