US Senate rejects immigration proposals, reform in peril

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Washington (AFP) - The US Senate blocked several immigration proposals Thursday including a bipartisan compromise opposed by President Donald Trump, dashing hopes that Congress will soon decide the fate of nearly two million migrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Trump had threatened to veto the bipartisan deal, which would shield the young immigrants from deportation in exchange for $25 billion in border security, because it did not include the restrictions on legal immigration he has sought.

The Senate's Republican leadership had set aside this week to reach an agreement on putting 1.8 million so-called "Dreamers" on a pathway to citizenship, boosting border security, and potentially tightening up existing regulations on immigration.

Their efforts failed spectacularly, leaving the entire process up in the air.

Lawmakers were heading home to their districts for 10 days to reassess, with just weeks to go before a March 5 deadline, after which thousands could be at risk of deportation.

Meanwhile, US courts may have a say in whether Dreamers get deported from that date. Two judges recently blocked Trump's order to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects some 690,000 Dreamers.

Another 1.1 million were eligible but did not sign up.

Trump administration officials have petitioned the US Supreme Court to take up the case.

All four proposals put forward on Thursday failed -- including the bipartisan deal that earned majority support in the 100-member chamber but ultimately fell six votes short of the 60 needed to advance legislation.

That plan was blasted by Trump as a "total catastrophe" because his administration said it would dramatically reduce immigration enforcement.

The White House piled on, calling the bipartisan plan "massively reckless" and brandishing the threat of a presidential veto.

Trump instead pushed his own framework, which would also resolve the legal status of the 1.8 million immigrants and provide $25 billion for border security, including funding his much-cherished border wall, while ending a diversity visa lottery and limiting family reunification.

But the Senate roundly rejected that package by a 39-60 vote, sending the White House a sharp message that many in Trump's own party were unhappy with the president's involvement in the process.

"It thought we may be able to resolve this," a dejected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said afterwards, pointing his figure at Democrats for missing what he described as a "golden opportunity" to seal legal status for nearly two million immigrants.

Trump, he said, came "clearly more than halfway to meet the Democrats on this issue."

- Trump 'torpedoing' bipartisanship -

Later in a statement, the White House blasted the Democrats, saying they were "held hostage by the radical left in their party" and "not serious" about DACA, immigration reform or homeland security.

"Today, they sided with an extreme fringe over the hardworking men and women of the Department of Homeland Security," the statement said, adding Trump's administration would continue to push for a package including "a reasonable DACA solution."

But fellow Senator Lindsey Graham, who backed the bipartisan plan and clashed repeatedly with the Trump administration on its viability, warned that success would remain elusive if each side continued "further politicization" of the issue.

"I continue to believe there is a deal to be had on immigration that gives President Trump many of his priorities on the border and relief for the DACA-eligible population," Graham tweeted.

The Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said the vote was proof that Trump's plan was dead.

"If he would stop torpedoing bipartisan efforts, a good bill would pass," Schumer added.

The bipartisan effort would have only made limited changes to family reunification, and would leave the diversity lottery untouched.

Trump has argued that extremists have abused the two programs in order to enter the country and kill Americans.

Even if it had passed the Senate, the plan would have encountered trouble in the House of Representatives, where several conservatives are opposed to any measure that gives "amnesty" to illegal immigrants.

With the Senate's failure, the Republican-led House is likely to push for a vote on a hardline conservative immigration bill circulating in the chamber.

"If the House is going to wait for 60 senators to figure out an immigration bill first, we might as well all go home and take a nap," House Republican Mark Meadows said on Twitter.

House Democrats were clear they sought action too, but wanted House Speaker Paul Ryan to be fair by introducing the conservative bill, a Democratic proposal called the Dream Act, and a bipartisan compromise, and see which earns the most votes.

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