Gang of Five? Bipartisan group of senators working to extend DACA before year's end

Bennet, Gardner both said to be part of talks

DENVER – One of several measures under discussion to restore protections for Dreamers is being put together by a bipartisan group of senators, including several from the “Gang of Eight,” who want to have DACA restored before the end of the year, sources tell Denver7.

The new discussion involves pairing the Dream Act with some border security measures in an attempt to pass a bipartisan solution for the undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, three Senate aides told Denver7 in interviews this week.

President Donald Trump and his administration announced in early September it would be terminating DACA and called for Congress to come up with a new extension before March.

Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who were all part of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that passed a comprehensive immigration reform package through the Senate in 2013, are leading the discussions, according to the three aides with knowledge of the talks.

The three aides spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to candidly discuss details of the ongoing talks.

A spokesman for Flake confirmed the senator was working with Bennet.

“I can confirm that several weeks ago, Sens. Flake and Bennet formed a bipartisan group to advance a DACA solution,” Flake’s spokesman, Jason Samuels, told Denver7. He said he could not confirm who else were members of the group.

"There are a couple of issues we still need consensus on, but we're getting close on a number of them," Flake told POLITICO on Monday.

Two of the Senate aides also told Denver7 that Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were involved in the talks. Graham was also a member of the “Gang of Eight” and is the sponsor of this year’s version of the Dream Act.

Spokesmen for both senators told Denver7 the two Republicans were involved in several discussions, but did not directly confirm they were talking with Flake, Bennet and Durbin.

“[Graham] has been discussing various combinations of proposals (Dream Act, Bridge Act, border security, ending chain migration, etc.) since Pres. Trump rescinded DACA,” said Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop in a statement to Denver7.

“Senator Gardner is a sponsor of the Dream Act, so of course that’s the legislation he would like to be signed into law – that’s why he sponsored it. However, his top goal is to find a bipartisan solution that allows children who came to this country without documentation, through no fault of their own, have the opportunity to remain here lawfully,” Gardner’s spokesman, Casey Contres, told Denver7. “He’s open to many different solutions that will continue to be discussed that achieve that goal.”

Discussions have been ongoing for weeks, but accelerated this week when Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Chuck Grassley introduced a separate immigration bill of their own that came out of a working group, the Secure Act, which many Democrats in the Senate say isn’t a serious bipartisan offer. Neither Cornyn nor Grassley has ever supported the Dream Act the several times it’s been introduced since 2001.

“This proposal, as I have told them personally, cannot be considered a good faith effort to provide protection for the Dreamers, including those who were enrolled in DACA,” Durbin said Tuesday. “The laundry list of unrelated immigration bills which they have offered is designed to delay and stop any serious bipartisan effort to solve this crisis created by the Trump administration.”

Graham and Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, have again led the Dream Act push this year. Durbin was in outside talks with the Cornyn and Grassley panel in the months since they started crafting their proposal, but balked at them lumping in stringent interior security measures with other border security measures when their proposal was unveiled this week.

The latest version of the Dream Act would allow Dreamers to get permanent residency if they were brought to the U.S. before age 18, graduate from high school or earn a GED, pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least three years or serve in the military, pass background checks, and show proficiency in English.

The four people aside from Graham said to be working on the bipartisan discussions—Durbin, Flake, Bennet and Gardner—are all cosponsors of Graham’s Dream Act of 2017, as are Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, three other Democratic senators, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The working proposals from the bipartisan group would allow for some border security measures to be added onto the Dream Act base, three sources said. They said that the added security measures were being included to get more Republicans and the White House on board.

Some of the border security measures that have been discussed include improving technology, adding fencing along certain parts of the border, as well as other border security-strengthening measures posed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, including new drone technology, cameras, hiring incentives, and drug interdiction measures, two people told Denver7.

“I think any option is on the table. We need to pass the Dream Act by the end of the year,” one person said.

The group has Schumer's blessing to continue with the bipartisan talks, and two sources said Schumer and Durbin have spoken to House Speaker Paul Ryan about the talks.

There are also multiple ongoing discussions about DACA fixes in the House, and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) was one of 34 representatives who this week sent a letter to Ryan demanding a DACA deal by the year’s end as well.

Bennet was adamant in his opposition to the Cornyn-Grassley bill earlier this week.

“Cornyn-Grassley is not a serious proposal to protect the hundreds of thousands of #Dreamers who are in danger of losing their status if Congress fails to act. I will continue working toward a bipartisan solution to pass the #DreamAct before the end of the year,” Bennet tweeted Tuesday.

He also noted that he and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., received a letter Tuesday from 50 current and former Colorado mayors, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, urging Congress to pass the Dream Act. Bennet wrote: “A serious solution would be responsive to local leaders around the country who have called for the #DreamAct.”

The Senate will need 60 votes to pass such a measure, which means all Democrats and at least 12 Republicans would have to support it before it’s sent to the House. The measure, if it gains enough support, would likely be included in a continuing spending bill, the Senate aides said.

“There’s a sense there’s a group of people willing to solve this problem quickly,” one aide said. “A whole lot of people are living in fear right now….Our group is serious about trying to solve that problem before the end of the year.”

Gardner signed on with Bennet to cosponsor the Dream Act in September. It was his first time cosponsoring such legislation. The House never brought a vote on the “Gang of Eight” Senate bill while Gardner was there in 2013.

His spokesman, Contres, agreed with the sentiments that the GOP was willing to work with Democrats on the Dreamer issue to get something done before the end of the year.

“There have been a lot of discussions with senators on both sides of the aisle about how we can get this done. Those are going to continue,” Contres said.

And though that feeling is generally shared in the House and Senate, most in Congress are also looking to pass an extension for CHIP by Jan. 1, and the two legislative chambers are heading to a conference committee on tax reform discussions as well while also trying to come to an agreement on a spending resolution before the next shutdown, which is set for Dec. 22 if a new measure doesn’t pass.

“I think the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats want to find a solution for the Dreamers,” Contres said. “The debate will be what is the best way to do that – which is an important debate to have.”

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