Hopes dim even more for immigration agreement in US Senate before holidays

WASHINGTON — U.S. senators late Monday said they are closer to an agreement on changes to immigration policy in order to clear a multi-billion-dollar global security package, but any timing on a deal or details of that framework remained elusive.

“While the job is not finished, I’m confident that we’re headed in the right direction,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky acknowledged that progress was made on immigration negotiations over the weekend, but said that more time was needed for an agreement and to produce legislative text.

“Senate Republicans will not make up for others showing up late to the table by waiving our responsibility to carefully negotiate and review any agreement before voting on it,” McConnell said.

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The Biden administration is negotiating with a group of bipartisan senators to strike a deal that would tighten immigration restrictions and thus ease passage of more than $100 billion in emergency supplemental aid for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and U.S. border security.

If the package is punted to the New Year, it adds to Congress’ growing list of difficult items, including two funding deadlines that could lead to a potential partial government shutdown if not met, and the White House has warned Ukraine has about a month of funding left unless Congress approves aid.

The talks on Capitol Hill follow recent comments from the Republican front-runner, former president Donald Trump, who has continued to use dehumanizing language toward immigrants — most recently at a campaign stop in New Hampshire over the weekend. The anti-immigrant remarks echoed language in Adolf Hitler’s memoir “Mein Kampf.”

Just 61 senators vote

Schumer kept the Senate in session to continue negotiations after the House left last week, and he did not indicate Monday if a vote on the supplemental would be held this week. Only 61 senators were in attendance for a vote  Monday night to confirm former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as commissioner for the Social Security Administration.

Schumer said that there needs to be a “middle ground” and that both sides will have to make concessions.

The lead Senate negotiators are Sens. Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, Kyrsten Sinema, independent of Arizona and James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma.

Lankford said there is currently no bill text and does not expect a vote to be held this week, but said that decision is ultimately up to Schumer. He also noted that there are currently only a handful of Senate Republicans in attendance.

Murphy said that the Senate and the White House continue to “make good progress,” and that the group is working to get bill “text as quickly as we can.”

“I want to get this done as quickly as possible,” he said.  “This set of law is so important and so complicated that you gotta get it right, not get it fast.”

Murphy declined to comment on specific proposals being discussed in negotiations, but potential changes to asylum law have drawn criticism from progressive and Latino Democrats who argue those proposals would raise the bar for migrants to claim asylum by making changes to the “credible fear” standard.

Latino Democrats and immigration advocates have expressed their frustration with being shut out of negotiations and have warned the Biden administration that these negotiations could risk alienating young and Latino voters in next year’s presidential election.

Those lawmakers warned against a potential immigration deal that would resurrect a pandemic-era tool used by the Trump administration to expel millions of migrants, known as Title 42.

Graham says senators ‘not anywhere close to a deal’

South Carolina’s GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that he did not think any deal on immigration policy would be made until the New Year.

“The bottom line here is we feel like we’re being jammed, we’re not anywhere close to a deal,” Graham said.

Graham noted that progress has been made, especially on changes to asylum, but for Republicans, “there’s a ways to go” on the humanitarian parole authority that the Biden administration uses to grant temporary protections to people from certain countries. Republicans have wanted to curb the Biden administration’s use of its humanitarian authority.

The Biden administration has used humanitarian parole to allow nationals from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Venezuela to work temporarily in the U.S.

Graham said that he believes the House will agree to Senate negotiations if there are changes to asylum and “stop blanket (humanitarian) parole.”

Sen. John Kennedy also expressed doubts that an agreement on immigration policy would be reached by the end of the week.

“It doesn’t appear that we’re gonna be able to land this plane before Christmas, but stranger things have happened,” the Louisiana Republican said. “So we’ll see.”

South Dakota GOP Sen. Mike Rounds said he didn’t think it was a good idea to negotiate a framework with the House out of session, pointing out that even if an agreement is reached, nothing can happen until the House comes back from its three-week recess.

“All it does is allow everybody to take potshots at whatever the deal is,” Rounds said. “We’re trying to find common ground, but the bottom line is, this administration has known now for well over a month that the conditions require the Southern border to be dealt with.”

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