Gardner, Bennet propose new DACA deal that includes wall funding as immigration debate continues

DENVER – Colorado’s U.S. senators introduced a new immigration measure Wednesday morning aimed at protecting Dreamers and enhancing border security, as Congress works to put together a measure that can pass both chambers of Congress and the president’s desk.

The new measure from Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) plays off the bipartisan measure the two, along with a bipartisan panel of other senators, sent to the president in January. It was rejected by President Donald Trump at the time, as the president changed his stance on what he hoped for in an immigration deal.

The new measure includes $25 billion in appropriations for border security measures over the next 10 years, and includes appropriations for Trump’s much-sought border wall. It also contains a 12-year pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, extra money meant to hire new immigration judges and attorneys, and a permanent authorization of voluntary e-Verify, which the government uses to compare information from Homeland Security, Social Security and employment records.

The senators’ previous plan contained many of the same parameters, but the new proposal injects more appropriations money for the wall and border security that Trump said he wanted after the original plan was unveiled.

That deal paired the Dream Act, which would provide pathways to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children over either 10 or 12 years depending on their DACA status, with several border security measures.

Included in those measures are changes to “chain” migration programs; the elimination of the diversity lottery; $1.1 billion for surveillance, technology and infrastructure improvements along the border; and $1.6 billion for border wall planning and construction.

But whether or not the new Gardner-Bennet measure has any chance of getting 60 votes in the Senate, as any immigration bill will need, remains in question.

The White House threw its weight Wednesday behind a proposal from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that was nearly an exact replica of what the White House has sought in recent weeks.

That measure would also provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 1.8 million Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents and stayed illegally. There are an estimated 17,000 DACA recipients living in Colorado.

It also contains the same amount of money for border security, and would restrict family-based migration and put an end to the visa lottery—another of Trump’s priorities.

Trump said he didn’t want a “Band-Aid approach,” but most Democrats and some Republicans have been pushing narrower policies that address Dreamers and certain border security measures first, and other immigration measures pushed for by more-conservative members of Congress and some in the White House afterward.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump was “trying to force his unpopular, hard-line immigration agenda down the throats of the American people by calling it a DACA bill.”

And the Department of Homeland Security immediately threw cold water on the Gardner-Bennet proposal.

"Gardner-Bennet bill, AKA the Schumer bill, violates the framework, would legalize unlimited numbers through chain migration, and leaves deadly loopholes intact," Katie Waldman, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, told Denver7.

Trump said last September he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on March 5, and called for Congress to act beforehand. But two federal judges have granted preliminary injunctions against his order, in theory stopping the end of the program.

But Trump has muddied the waters over the past several months as Congress worked toward a solution, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pushed bringing any bill to the floor off to after Congress passed two continuing resolutions to keep the government open.

After Trump rejected their first measure, Gardner and Bennet both said they’d given Trump the deal he asked for. But they said they remained committed to finding a solution for Dreamers before March.

When asked Tuesday as the immigration debate got underway, and ahead of the unveiling of the new measure, both Gardner and Bennet said they remained committed to finding that solution—though Bennet seemed less-willing than Gardner to vote for some of the conservative measures.

In statements Wednesday, both said they were still adamant that Congress find a solution for the Dreamers in Colorado and across the country.

“Coloradans expect Sen. Bennet and I to work together and that’s exactly what we have done,” Gardner said. “This legislation addresses DACA and border security, and we are urging members on both sides of the aisle that want a solution to support our bipartisan approach to addressing our flawed immigration system.”

“This amendment is a reasonable solution to break through Washington gridlock and provide a compromise for Dreamers who are counting on us in Colorado and around the country,” Bennet said. “Our constituents elected us to get things done, and this amendment is the result of each side accepting some things they don’t fully agree with to do just that.”

Debate will be ongoing on the measures Wednesday, and congressional leaders have said they hope to have votes finalized by the end of the week.

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