Six bipartisan senators announced Thursday that they reached a deal in principle on legislation that would shield hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.
But it remained to be seen if the chamber’s leaders, the House of Representatives or the White House would get behind their framework.
“President Trump called on Congress to solve the DACA challenge. We have been working for four months and have reached an agreement in principle that addresses border security, the diversity visa lottery, chain migration/family reunification, and the Dream Act — the areas outlined by the President. We are now working to build support for that deal in Congress,” said a statement from Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
Even as the senators announced their agreement, it appeared Congress had to overcome some hurdles to craft legislation that could pass both chambers of the GOP-held Congress and get President Donald Trump’s signature. Shortly before the lawmakers released their statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “there has not been a deal reached yet” but added “we still think we can get there.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, earlier said “there’s no deal” on immigration, according to NBC News. Both Cornyn and Durbin are part of a separate negotiating group comprised of the second-ranking senator and congressman on both sides of the aisle.
It is unclear what exactly the six senators’ agreement would contain.
Lawmakers have sought a legislative solution after President Donald Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. If Congress cannot extend the protections for the young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, they could face deportation after the program starts to expire on March 5.
Earlier, Flake said he expects a bill to get released by the end of the week. However, he doubts it could get passed by Jan. 19, the deadline that Democrats have set as a target to pass an immigration plan as part of a deal to avoid a government shutdown.
The White House, which hosted negotiations with bipartisan lawmakers earlier in the week, held another meeting on Thursday. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., reportedly called a plan proposed by Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., during the meeting a “joke.”
Democrats’ insistence on passing an immigration bill by the funding deadline has raised concerns about the possibility of a government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants to address the DACA and keeping the government open in separate pieces of legislation.
Republicans have sought some form of funding for measures to curb illegal immigration as part of a deal. On Wednesday, Trump insisted on an agreement that includes funding for his proposed border wall, a day after he told bipartisan lawmakers he would sign whatever they passed.
On Wednesday, several House Republicans released their own, likely tougher immigration bill. The plan would aim to limit family-based or so-called chain migration, end the visa lottery system and beef up border security measures.
Democrats are unlikely to agree to some of those measures.
On Thursday, Flake said the physical structure Trump has called for does not need to be a “wall” but “more of a fence.” He stressed the need for “surveillance” and “manpower” in tandem with that.
DACA shielded nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation and allowed them to work legally in the United States. Democrats and many Republicans in Congress support legislation enshrining those protections.
Some hardline supporters of Trump — who ran on a pledge to crack down on immigration — have criticized his talks about a bipartisan DACA solution.
The Trump administration recently set an $18 billion price tag over a decade for the border wall — a hefty bill, especially for budget-minded Republicans.