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The Senate just opened up a rare free-for-all debate on immigration — here's who's winning so far

Business Insider logo Business Insider 2/13/2018 Michelle Mark

chuck schumer mitch mcconnell /&nbsp;<span style="font-size:13px;">Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite</span> © Provided by Business Insider chuck schumer mitch mcconnell / Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

  • The Senate launched into a wild week of immigration on Monday evening.
  • Lawmakers will compete to see which bill can get to 60 votes first.
  • Senators will attempt to balance protecting young unauthorized immigrants known as "Dreamers" with President Donald Trump's calls for a wall and increased border security.


After months of inaction and bickering over immigration, the Senate launched into a rare, open debate on the issue Monday evening.

It was a remarkable move that allowed senators to offer up a variety of proposals to see which can get a majority first.

"Whoever gets to 60 votes wins," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters last week.

Lawmakers will duke it out to resolve the fate of young unauthorized immigrants known as "Dreamers," increase border security, and potentially rewrite the immigration system — it's open-ended.

The freewheeling process is expected to stretch throughout the week, and so far, the only major agreement senators reached was to kick off the debate.

On Monday night, the chamber voted 97-1 to use an unrelated bill as a "shell" to build an ultimate proposal to vote on. The lone holdout was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

High stakes and a historic opportunity

'Dreamers' hug as they meet with relatives during the 'Keep Our Dream Alive' binational meeting at a new section of the border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in Sunland Park, U.S., opposite the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, December 10, 2017. Picture taken from the U.S side of the U.S.-Mexico border. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez © Provided by Business Insider 'Dreamers' hug as they meet with relatives during the 'Keep Our Dream Alive' binational meeting at a new section of the border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in Sunland Park, U.S., opposite the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, December 10, 2017. Picture taken from the U.S side of the U.S.-Mexico border. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez The stakes for any bill are high, as the fate of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers hangs in the balance.

In September, the Trump administration began phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which temporarily shielded them from deportation and granted them work authorization.

The date for DACA's termination was set for March 5 — a deadline that blurred slightly after a federal judge in January ordered the Trump administration to resume processing renewal applications for DACA recipients.

Though the Trump administration is complying with the court order, it also appealed the ruling to a federal appeals court as well as the Supreme Court. It's unclear how long the ruling will remain in place.

If Congress manages to pass something that resolves the fate of Dreamers, it would be a historic milestone.

The last major effort to overhaul the US immigration system occurred in 2013, when the so-called "Gang of Eight" bill passed through the Senate with a significant 68-vote margin, but failed after the House failed to take it up.

'Keep it simple'

chuck grassley immigration /&nbsp;<span style="font-size:13px;">Associated Press/Alex Brandon</span> © Provided by Business Insider chuck grassley immigration / Associated Press/Alex Brandon

It's unclear which of the lawmakers' proposals will ultimately fare the best, but one Republican plan in particular has McConnell's backing and is gaining steam.

That bill, known as The Secure and Succeed Act, closely mirrors President Donald Trump's wishes by exchanging protections for Dreamers with full border wall funding and heavy cuts to legal immigration.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and the lead sponsor of the bill, told The Washington Post that it's the only piece of legislation that could make it through the House and get Trump's signature.

But that plan has next to no chance of getting necessary votes from Democrats, who abhor both Trump's border wall proposal and slashing legal immigration.

Instead, many Democrats say a proposal with the best chance of survival is a narrow one that addresses DACA alone, or DACA paired with certain border security measures short of a physical wall.

"The only way to achieve a solution to the DACA crisis is to keep it simple," The New York Times reported Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said on the Senate floor.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed, saying on the floor that Democrats intended to support border security changes, but not much else.

"Now is not the time nor the place to reform the entire legal immigration system," Schumer said, according to NPR. "This is the moment for a narrow bill, and every ounce of energy is going into finding one that can pass."

Debate got off to a rocky start on Tuesday after Republicans introduced their first amendment, which included language that would punish so-called "sanctuary cities," jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Democrats blocked the request, infuriated that Republicans would introduce an amendment into the debate that lawmakers and the president have barely discussed.

"The proposal [McConnell] just offered does not address the underlying issues of this debate, why we are were," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "It doesn't address the Dreamers, nor does it address border security."

'There will never be another opportunity!'

donald trump © Provided by Business Insider donald trump But it's still unclear whether Trump will support a bill if it makes it through the House and the Senate.

Trump has insisted he will only sign into law a bill that contains his four "pillars" of immigration reform.

In addition to resolving DACA, Trump also wants Congress to fund his long-promised border wall, overhaul the family-sponsored visas that conservatives decry as enabling "chain migration," and eliminate the diversity visa lottery, which allots 50,000 visas per year to immigrants from underrepresented countries.

The White House recently offered up its own immigration proposal, which would give 1.8 million Dreamers a pathway to citizenship — far beyond the 690,000 immigrants who DACA currently covers — in exchange for heavy cuts to legal immigration levels and the full $25 million funding for the border wall.

Both Democrats and hardline conservatives derided the plan. The latter are at loathe to provide what they call "amnesty" to large numbers of unauthorized immigrants.

Trump weighed in on the debate early Tuesday morning, writing on Twitter that the time was now.

"Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal. Wouldn't it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle," he tweeted. "This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th."

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Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell are posing for a picture

© Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite
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