A stretch of border wall near Nogales. Immigration reform bills in the House and Senate are calling for more high-tech border security technology and a detailed report on the feasibility of a wall, drawing the ire of President Donald Trump. Photo by Sophia Kunthara / Cronkite News

Cronkite News: Immigration bills see little White House support

McCain backs immigration bill blasted as ‘waste of time’ by Trump

By Kyley Schultz
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – Sen. John McCain introduced a bill Monday that gives DACA recipients a path to citizenship and calls for beefed-up border security – but excludes border wall funding, causing the president to brand it a “waste of time.”

The bill by McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, mirrors a bipartisan House bill that would protect Dreamers while calling for stronger border security through “the most practical and effective technology available by 2020,” such as radar surveillance, drones and seismic detection tools.

Before the bill had even been introduced, however, President Donald Trump was tweeting his displeasure.

“Any deal on DACA that does not include STRONG border security and the desperately needed WALL is a total waste of time,” Trump tweeted Monday morning. “March 5th is rapidly approaching and the Dems seem not to care about DACA. Make a deal!”

March 5 is the date Trump set for the expiration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Obama-era program that protected about 800,000 immigrants who were brought to this country illegally when they were children.

That’s not the only deadline Congress faces. The latest federal budget extension is set to expire at midnight Thursday, triggering a government shutdown if lawmakers cannot agree on another extension – something that happened last month when Senate Democrats and Republicans failed to compromise on immigration.

Congressional leaders have said they expect to avoid a shutdown this week. But Coons and McCain said the immigration issue needs to be dealt with, so that lawmakers can focus on a long-term budget plan instead of continued short-term extensions.

“It’s time we end the gridlock so we can quickly move on to completing a long-term budget agreement that provides our men and women in uniform the support they deserve,” McCain said in a prepared statement with Coons.

The Senate proposal mirrors a bipartisan House bill, the Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act, whose 54 co-sponsors were split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. All four Arizona Democratic House members have signed on to the bill, but none of the state’s Republicans have signed on so far.

The bills would create a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients who have been here continuously since Dec. 31, 2013, who were under 18 when they were brought to the country and who meet other requirements, such as keeping a clean record. The bills also call for hiring more judges to clear up immigration court backlogs.

The bulk of the 66-page bill deals with border security.

Rather than directly funding Trump’s proposed border wall, the bill would give the Department of Homeland Security more resources to “deploy the most practical and effective technology available by 2020,” such radar surveillance, seismic detection tools and more.

The department would also have to report back to Congress within a year with a comprehensive border strategy, including an inventory of current systems and projected per-mile costs of alternatives, such as a wall.

“The bill I’m introducing with Senator McCain today doesn’t solve every immigration issue, but it does address the two most pressing problems we face: protecting DACA recipients and securing the border,” Coons said in the statement with McCain.

“I believe there is bipartisan support for both of those things and I believe that we can reach a budget deal that increases funding for our military and important domestic programs,” Coons’ statement said.

But this bill is just the latest of many that have been introduced, all of which face an uphill climb, said Theresa Brown of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Cronkite News video by Ariana Bustos: Sens. John McCain and Chris Coons propose a bipartisan immigration bill

“Like every other potential immigration deal out there, where do the votes come from” Are there enough votes for this between the Republicans and Democrats? Will the President sign it?” said Brown, the director of immigration and cross-border policy at the center.

“It’s not clear which of the various proposals, deals, un-deals and frameworks can actually garner the majorities in the House and the Senate,” she said.

The White House has said any proposal from Congress would have to meet four goals: protecting DACA recipients, securing the border, ending the visa lottery system and ending family migration, derided by opponents as “chain migration.”

The administration released a plan last month that called for a multiyear path to citizenship for as many as 1.8 million DACA recipients and a $25 billion trust fund for a “border wall system.”

But architects from Southwestern states have gone on record opposing a wall until details on its scope and cost are provided.

“We first need to admit that there is not a definitive wall proposal – there’s an idea of a wall, but we don’t know where it would be built, how long it is, how tall it is or what it’s made of,” said Robert Miller, president of the Arizona chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

“We don’t even know what the performance criteria is or who is paying for it. We really don’t know if the wall is going to be successful or not until a finalized proposal is done,” Miller said in a phone interview Monday.

Coons and McCain acknowledge that their bill does not address all of the president demands, including the visa lottery and family-based immigration, but are hopeful that their plan can act as a “foundation for future conversations.”

– Cronkite News reporters Ariana Bustos and Shelby Lindsay contributed to this report.

Note: This article is published via a Creative Commons license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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