White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters there is no deal yet on immigration despite claims of an agreement from a bipartisan group of senators working to resolve the status of young undocumented immigrants.
“However, we still think we can get there,” Sanders told reporters at the White House briefing Thursday.
This story will be updated.
A bipartisan group of senators working to resolve the status of young undocumented immigrants, border security and restrictions on legal migration has offered an opening bid on an agreement and is seeking support from fellow senators and President Trump.
Six senators working on immigration issues “have an agreement in principle. We’re shopping it to our colleagues,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters on Thursday afternoon.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), another member of the group, added that “we have answered the call” of Trump, who brought a cross-section of Democrats and Republicans together at the White House this week and called on them to reach a deal he can sign.
In addition to Flake and Graham, the group included Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), all of whom have worked on immigration issues for several years and hail from states with large immigrant populations.
The fast-moving developments included a hastily-arranged Oval Office meeting with Trump on Thursday, where Graham and Durbin presented Trump details of their plan. The surprise move angered senior Republican leaders and conservatives who are eager to fulfill Trump’s campaign pledges on immigration and control floor debate on the issue. But any attempt to pass immigration and border security legislation will require Democratic support in the closely-divided Senate.
During the Oval Office meeting, Graham said he told Trump, “This is our idea, would you consider this? He challenged us to come up with an idea and we did.”
Graham wouldn’t say how the president responded, but said that coming up with bipartisan support in the coming days “will matter to the president.”
Flake and Graham said they would not be publicly discussing details of their plan until they share it with colleagues.
But Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), an immigration hard-liner and ally of Trump who attended the Oval Office meeting, said that the bipartisan plan “is unacceptable” because of how it deals with family-based migration policy, a practice that conservatives deride as “chain migration,” and on ending the diversity lottery program that grants visas to 55,000 people from countries with low immigration each year.
“It doesn’t end chain migration,” Cotton said of the bipartisan plan. “It merely delays it for an extremely small class of persons. On the diversity lottery, it simply takes all those visas and gives them away to other people for no rhyme or reason, it doesn’t just end the diversity lottery.”
And Cotton said that the plan’s border security proposal “doesn’t give near enough resources to meet the president’s demands.”
Told of Cotton’s public criticisms, Graham snapped back: “Sen. Cotton can present his proposal. We presented ours. I’m not negotiating with Sen. Cotton and let me know when Sen. Cotton has a proposal that gets a Democrat. I’m dying to look at it.”
Flake added that “I don’t think we’ll get all Republicans — I never thought that.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at her daily brief, at her daily briefing: “There has not been a deal reached yet. However we still think we can get there. . . . We’ve outlined what we think a deal has to look like on our end.”
The breakthrough comes just days before a spending deadline that most Democrats are using as leverage for an immigration agreement.
Government funding expires on Jan. 19, and Democrats say they will support legislation to keep the government operating only if the legislation includes plans to protect “dreamers.” But the talks have deadlocked for weeks amid Republican demands that any changes in the young immigrants’ legal status be coupled with changes in border security and some legal immigration programs.
Complicating the talks, Republicans on Wednesday released a flurry of new legislation designed to placate concerns of conservatives wary of a potential bipartisan deal — and to address the fate of hundreds of thousands of other people living in the country under temporary legal protection.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) and Reps. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday unveiled a conservative plan that would grant dreamers an opportunity to apply for a legal residency that would be renewed every three years. Democrats and some Republicans reject such a plan.
The bill also would authorize construction of border walls and fencing; allow federal immigration and security agencies to hire at least 10,000 new agents; end the diversity lottery program; end the ability of new U.S. citizens to legally move family members into the United States; withhold federal funding from cities that refuse to help federal agencies enforce immigration laws; and intensify use of the E-Verify system to check an employee’s immigration status.
Goodlatte, who attended Thursday’s Oval Office meeting, said on Wednesday that his legislation “is aligned with the White House’s immigration priorities” and would “ensure the door remains open to law-abiding immigrants, and restore the rule of law.”
The proposals have been previously rejected by other Republicans, who say that such a comprehensive proposal could not pass the badly fractured Congress and that the bill’s border security measures are too aggressive. Privately, aides to GOP leaders say the bill would not be able to pass in the House.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), whose Denver-area district is being closely targeted by Democrats this year, introduced a bill to grant permanent legal residency to hundreds of thousands of people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and other countries granted residency through the Temporary Protection Status program.
The Trump administration has made plans to end the program in the coming years, emphasizing that the program was meant to provide only temporary legal status and calling on Congress to come up with a permanent solution.
The ongoing fight was sparked by Trump’s decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the president and his supporters called an egregious example of executive overreach. But Trump’s attempts to end the program were upended late Tuesday, when U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said the nearly 690,000 DACA recipients must retain their work permits and protection from deportation while a lawsuit challenging the decision to end the program moves forward.
The White House called the injunction “outrageous,” and the Justice Department has said it will appeal.
Negotiators on Capitol Hill said they didn’t think the court ruling would slow ongoing talks.
David Nakamura, Josh Dawsey and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.
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