New bipartisan immigration plan introduced in Senate

WASHINGTON — Two senators from opposite sides of the aisle introduced a bipartisan plan Monday designed to settle two of the more pressing parts of the immigration debate and let lawmakers move ahead on other issues.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Christopher A. Coons, Democrat of Delaware, formally introduced a bill that would grant permanent legal status to undocumented immigrants known as ‘‘Dreamers’’ and start bolstering security along the US-Mexico border.

But the measure would not immediately authorize spending the $25 billion President Trump is seeking to fortify the border with new wall and fence construction. Some Republicans are seeking at least $30 billion.


The McCain-Coons plan would grant legal status to Dreamers who have been in the country since 2013, a larger pool of undocumented immigrants than the 1.8 million Trump supports legalizing.

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The bill says nothing about curbing family-based legal migration or making changes to the diversity lottery program — two other priorities for Trump and conservative Republicans.

Coons told reporters Monday that he has not heard from top congressional leaders about his proposal and that he considers it one of several plans that could earn a vote.

He said that ‘‘a broader solution’’ introduced by Senators Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Lindsey O. Graham, Republican of South Carolina, is one possible compromise for senators to support, but added that he is ‘‘also conscious of the fact that there’s very little time left’’ before the March 5 deadline to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for Dreamers.

He said Trump’s ‘‘unconstructive engagement’’ with Durbin and Graham on the issue means that their bill may not be feasible.


Trump, Durbin, and Graham clashed in an Oval Office meeting last month when the president dismissed some of their potential proposals and used a vulgarism to describe some African nations and Haiti — comments that roiled Washington for several days and contributed to a partial government shutdown.

Congress has four days to meet another short-term spending deadline, at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

In the House on Monday, GOP leaders met behind closed doors with Republican lawmakers to brief them on a strategy to pass a stopgap funding bill that could last up to six weeks. That would buy time for progress in a broader budget pact and, possibly, legislation sought by Democrats on immigration.

Coons said he and McCain hope their immigration proposal could offer a ‘‘strong starting place’’ for the Senate’s upcoming debate.

‘‘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,’’ McCain said.


Immigration has been a dominant subject of the monthslong talks to set new federal spending levels, as Democrats have insisted on enacting changes in immigration policy to win their support ever since Trump announced plans in September to end the DACA program.

The program is due to end March 5, although members of both parties think an ongoing federal court case that challenged Trump’s decision could keep the program operating for at least a few more months if Congress does not act.

Trump on Monday appeared to stand firm on his demands to fund the wall as part of any DACA legislation. ‘‘Any deal on DACA that does not include strong border security and the desperately needed wall is a total waste of time,’’ he said in a tweet. ‘‘March 5th is rapidly approaching and the Dems seem not to care about DACA. Make a deal!’’

A three-day partial government shutdown last month was forced in part by Democrats who withheld support for a short-term spending plan until Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, agreed to allow votes on immigration legislation if a compromise can’t be included as part of the next short-term spending bill.

Negotiators in both parties and both chambers are still working on a potential plan.

Durbin, a lead Democratic negotiator on immigration policy, said ‘‘there is not likely to be a DACA deal’’ this week but he does not expect a government shutdown.

“I do see a promise by Senator McConnell to finally bring this critical issue that affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in America . . . to a full debate,” Durbin said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Whether the McCain-Coons bill could pass the Senate is unclear, but it is nearly identical to legislation already introduced in the House with wide support.

The USA Act, introduced by Representative Will Hurd, Republican of Texas, and Pete Aguilar, Democrat of California, has 54 cosponsors — 27 members from each party — and has been the subject of conversations between Trump administration officials and senior congressional leaders.

But conservative lawmakers and some administration officials consider the House plan insufficient because it wouldn’t do more to boost border security.