Dem, GOP senators aim to breathe life into immigration debate by introducing narrow DACA bill with no wall

Trump calls the McCain-Coons bill a "total waste of time" without a wall.

— -- A bipartisan pair of senators today introduced a bill addressing a pressing issue as Congress continues to debate the future of U.S. immigration policy: what to do about the so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as young children.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Delaware, introduced a bill that deals with the class of immigrants who came to the United States with their parents and have lived here since Dec. 31, 2013. It would also fund various departments to help them devote more resources to border security, the immigration court system and the root causes of illegal immigration.

It would not, however, fulfill President Trump’s desire of $25 billion for the construction of the border wall, which appeared to draw the president’s ire just hours after the authors announced their plans.

The introduction of the bill comes as various groups of lawmakers seek a broader agreement that would also address the related issues of family-based migration and the diversity visa lottery program, both of which conservatives want to curtail. But such wider negotiations so far have not led to an agreement that is palatable to Trump, who has apparently been steered away from previous bipartisan compromises by hawkish members of his White House and the Senate.

During a conference call with reporters today, Coons said he hopes the legislation, which is the Senate version of a House bill authored by Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., can serve as a “base bill” if the other negotiating groups are unable to a compromise.

“I don’t think we should do anything less than what’s in McCain-Coons. And it is my hope over the next few days of negotiating that we do something more,” Coons said.

The House version already has 27 Republican co-sponsors, Coons noted. He suggested that bodes well for the bill's ability to get bipartisan in the Senate, where other immigration proposals have failed to garner broad support from both parties.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pledged to hold a vote on legislation to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects the young immigrants, and border security by Thursday, which is also when a short-term spending agreement runs out. Congress must act by then to fund the government or risk another shutdown, like the one last month.

In a statement, McCain, who was not on the conference call, said this more limited immigration bill could help clear the path to a long-term budget agreement, which he said would help bring stability back to the military by assuring its spending levels rather than bouncing from one short-term spending deal to the next.

“It’s time we end the gridlock so we can quickly move on to completing a long-term budget agreement that provides our men and women in uniform the support they deserve,“ he said.

Trump announced in September 2017 that he was ending DACA, an Obama-era program established via executive action. The first recipients would lose their protection, and thus be subject to deportation, beginning March 5. A California court decision last month threw that deadline into some question, as the court ordered the Department of Homeland Security to resume accepting DACA renewals. But lawmakers, including Coons, have not yet accepted the court ruling as delaying the date.

The McCain-Coons bill, like Hurd-Aguilar in the House, would offer a path to citizenship for about the same amount of undocumented childhood arrivals that Trump has proposed, 1.8 million. It would also commission a strategy from DHS for securing the border by 2020 and fund efforts to improve coordination between local and federal law enforcement and border patrol officials.

Finally, the bill would fund efforts to clear up an immigration backlog and to address the core causes of illegal immigration from Central America.