WASHINGTON -- Nearly two-dozen senators from both parties want to offer legislation next week that would protect almost 700,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation, but they're stuck on whether their measure should protect the parents of these immigrants from deportation too.
Most Democrats want to preserve the so-called "chain migration" system that lets newly documented immigrants line family members up to attain legal status. Many conservative lawmakers counter this system has to end or at least be substantially scaled back.
President Donald Trump has said DACA, an Obama-era executive action, will end March 5, so Congress is about to get serious codifying the program into law. But getting consensus is difficult, maybe even impossible.
Some Republicans say colleagues should be prepared to accept a short-term extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program if members can't come up with a deal. Democrats want only a permanent fix.
Fierce disagreements remain over how much to spend on Trump's border wall, and whether to eliminate the diversity lottery program that incentivizes visas for individuals from countries with lower immigration rates.
All these flashpoints are being vigorously debated among members of the self-described, self-selected "common-sense coalition" that's been meeting in Maine Republican Susan Collins' Capitol Hill office for the past three weeks as they prepare in preparation for a free-for-all immigration debate on the Senate floor in the days ahead.
Lawmakers have been meeting almost daily, lured by Girl Scout cookies and the optics of appearing "bipartisan" and collegial on a very complicated and politically divisive issue. They've even delighted over the use of a "talking stick" to curb interruptions during heated debates.
Leaving one such meeting Thursday afternoon, senators routinely cited "progress."
But so far, no amount of sweets or gimmicks have helped lawmakers overcome major divides.
The working group was formed during the government shutdown last month with a hope it could reach a deal by Thursday, in time to satisfy Democrats ahead of the next deadline to avert a government shutdown Friday morning.