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Here's what's blocking senators from reaching a DACA deal

Emma Dumain, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

The coalition's original membership was made up almost entirely of self-described moderates, especially heavy with Democrats from red states who are vulnerable in the 2018 midterms -- Missouri's Claire McCaskill and Florida's Bill Nelson, for instance. But the group has since opened its doors to anyone who wants to get involved, which perhaps has made reaching consensus thornier.

In addition to Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., veterans of crafting immigration policy who are pushing for a more expansive pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who have called for a more restrictive DACA fix, are also now involved.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who helped write the immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013 but stalled in the House, has more recently inserted himself into these negotiations. Unlike many of his colleagues in the group who have never waded too deeply into the immigration debate in the past, Rubio is trying to temper expectations and prepare for compromise.

Rubio in particular is advising members to avoid the issue of "chain migration," also called "family-based migration," when it comes to the parents of DACA recipients.

"We are likelier to pass a bill that is silent on the parents," Rubio said Thursday. "That doesn't mean it's not a sympathetic population, but I would say there are similarly sympathetic populations that are not being addressed no matter what we do."

Graham, who helped organize the immigration working group, agreed that a key to the group's success could be whether lawmakers agree to support a plan that just deals with a pathway to citizenship and enhanced border security.

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He said that Trump's commitment to offering citizenship to all 1.8 million undocumented immigrants originally brought to the country illegally by their parents -- not just the 700,000 who are currently benefiting from DACA -- was "a big move."

But he conceded that Trump's comments on immigrants from "shithole countries" in Africa and parts of the Caribbean, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's remarks that some undocumented immigrants were "too lazy to get off their asses" and apply for DACA, may be making it harder for Democrats to compromise.

"Democrats are in a bit of a box because they've gotta say 'no' to a pathway to citizenship to 1.8 million because they're upset about chain migration and the diversity lottery," Graham told reporters Thursday.

Cornyn, who supports passing a proposal that broadly matches the president's framework, suggested reducing "family-based migration" to just spouses and minor children, with other family members qualifying for employment-based or skills based visas instead.

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