What's Next From Congress On Immigration

Feb 16, 2018
Originally published on February 16, 2018 7:25 am
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Well, the Senate's debate on immigration didn't really go anywhere. Yeah, this was a test of bipartisanship, and it appears to have failed with various proposals falling short of 60 votes. This is how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put it.


MITCH MCCONNELL: I thought our friends across the aisle would jump at this opportunity to fulfill what they say is their top priority. But they just couldn't take yes for an answer.

GREENE: There is plenty that both sides refuse to say yes to, and lawmakers are out of the office next week. So what does this mean for immigrants who are protected by DACA? That program expires on March 5. We have NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow here with us. Hi, Scott.


GREENE: So a lot of senators were talking about this as, like, a moment of bipartisanship. What was supposed to happen, and what didn't happen?

DETROW: This was being framed by some people as this week-long debate where amendments would be offered on the floor, debate would happen on the floor, and it would be the Senate as people think it works, but it never works that way. And in fact, it still doesn't work that way because that's not what happened this week. Not much happened on the Senate floor at all until yesterday afternoon when three different approaches to dealing with immigration and DACA came up for votes. And all three failed, as well as a fourth measure that dealt with sanctuary cities.

GREENE: So what happened to the - I mean, there was a bipartisan plan that seemed to be getting a good bit of support, right?

DETROW: There was. It was gaining momentum. This was being put together by a group of moderate senators from both sides of the aisle. These were the people who were meeting in Maine Senator Susan Collins' office with the talking stick that got a lot of attention. This would have taken a more narrow approach to immigration than President Trump wanted. It would have made DACA protections permanent and also spent a lot of money on a border wall, up to $25 billion, over the course of several years. But yesterday afternoon, before the vote, the White House put out a statement saying that President Trump would veto this measure. Not only that, a Homeland Security statement really blasted this measure, saying it would make immigration worse, and that dried up all of its support. In the end, it got 54 votes, not the 60 it needed.

GREENE: So I just want to make this clear because there are a lot of lawmakers who think that DACA is something that the Senate could take up alone. It is the White House that is pushing something more comprehensive and adding things like changes to legalized immigration that just don't have enough support.

DETROW: Yeah. The White House, with the backing of both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and, in the House, House Speaker Paul Ryan, they say they only want to deal with the broader issue. The way Ryan puts it is we don't want to have to deal with DACA five years from now, as in we want to increase border security and lower the incentives for people to come to the country illegally. Now, it is worth noting, though, that the White House is making this hard-line statement saying we're not going to do anything unless it does everything that we want in our proposal. Of all the plans that came up for a vote yesterday, the one with the least amount of support was the plan that President Trump was backing - only 39 votes.

GREENE: So we keep mentioning this date, March 5, when the White House says that they will end DACA, but there are judges who are blocking the Trump administration from ending DACA. So make sense of this.

DETROW: Yeah. So in terms of how immigration officials are treating this, they say that for all intents and purposes DACA is continuing as it was before President Trump started the process of ending it. They're still accepting applications for renewal for people whose status comes up for renewal during this period. But Democrats are worried that getting rid of the March 5 deadline in terms of forcing Congress to act means Congress just won't act.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Scott Detrow talking to us about the immigration debate, which stalled in the Senate this week. Scott, thanks.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.