WASHINGTON – Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet have filed an amendment for consideration as the Senate begins debate on an immigration overhaul and legal protections for the recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The amendment will provide a 12-year pathway for 1.8 million Dreamers – children brought to the United States illegally by their parents – as well as $25 billion for a border wall.
Under the proposal, a two-year credit will be given to the 800,000 DACA recipients, reducing their path to 10 years.
“Our immigration system is broken and we need to fix it,” Gardner, a Republican, said in a news release. “There are many children who came to this country without documentation and we need to allow them the opportunity to remain here lawfully.”
The amendment addresses two pillars of President Donald Trump’s four-point plan of immigration priorities laid out by the White House. In addition to border wall funding and a pathway to citizenship, the White House has said it wants Congress to eliminate the visa lottery program and address “chain migration” – a visa program that allows new citizens to sponsor visas for parents and children still in their home country.
“This amendment is a reasonable solution to break through Washington gridlock and provide a compromise for Dreamers who are counting on us in Colorado and around the country,” Bennet, a Democrat, said in a news release Wednesday.
The bill would also provide funding to hire more immigration judges. As federal enforcement of immigration laws has increased over the last decade, the number of judges has not kept pace. According to the American Immigration Council, that has resulted in a 163 percent increase in immigration court backlogs between 2003 and 2015.
In April 2015, the average wait time for immigration cases to be heard was 604 days, or one year and eight months.
The deal also permanently authorizes the voluntary e-Verify program, which allows employers to check the legal status of their employees. Only employers with federal contracts are mandated to use e-Verify in the hiring process.
The employment status program has been a contentious point in the immigration debate, with immigration hardliners in the Senate and House calling for any immigration bill to include a provision making the program mandatory for all employers in the United States.
Congress has less than three weeks to address the issue as the March 5 deadline set by Trump approaches. Two federal judges have blocked Trump from rescinding legal protections for DACA, perhaps giving more time for Congress to act. However, those court decisions could be overturned at any time.
The Senate opened debate this week on an immigration bill after weeks of spending battles to open the year. Gardner said last week that he was looking forward to putting funding fights behind and focusing on the issues. Both Gardner and Bennet have been working together closely to address the immigration issues since Trump rescinded the Obama executive order.
The bill’s fate in the Senate is unclear. Any immigration vote needs 60 votes to pass. There is no agreement on Capitol Hill on what bill should pass. The Senate debate is completely open, giving any amendment introduced an opportunity to receive 60 votes.
Any bill passing the Senate has an equally uncertain fate in the House, where Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said he won’t take up any bill that doesn’t have the support of the president and half the Republican caucus.
Andrew Eversden is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.