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Senators fight partisan headwinds in pursuit of immigration deal

Suzanne Monyak, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — When Sen. Thom Tillis returned to Washington this month from a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border with a bipartisan group of eight senators, the North Carolina Republican was quickly reminded of just how difficult it would be to craft a broad immigration agreement.

The new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mark E. Green of Tennessee, called Tillis’ proposed immigration framework with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., “garbage” and “dead” just days into the new congressional session.

Tillis said this week he found it “confounding” that Republicans would choose to weigh in on an immigration proposal they had not even seen. He and Green, who he described as “a reasonable guy,” just need to sit down together and share information better, he said.

“We’re going to try and get it on the calendar in the next month,” Tillis said Tuesday.

Tillis and other senators from both sides of the aisle, in interviews this week, discussed their search for a path forward to resuscitate bipartisan immigration efforts that have died time and time again over the past few decades, and somehow finally achieve what several described as a difficult, legislative long shot.

“You know, we can’t start by assuming that it will be impossible,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who attended the border trip, said. “We have to start by believing it’s possible and put in the time and the effort to listen to each other.”


A potential path could involve House Republicans first passing a party-line border security bill. The Senate could then add language creating a path to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants to that bill to gain enough bipartisan support to gain at least 60 votes, the minimum needed for most legislation to advance in that chamber.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said he has already asked fellow Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy, who introduced a bill this year that would significantly restrict migration at the southwest border, if he would accept Senate additions to a border bill. Cornyn said the pair is currently “having that conversation.”

But Coons said the political realities of the House might even be more difficult this year than the last time a comprehensive immigration bill passed the Senate in 2013, when a group of eight Democrats and Republicans pushed a sprawling immigration package through the Senate, only to have it die in the Republican-controlled House.

“It is exceptionally difficult,” Coons said. “This has become a politicized and divisive issue.”


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