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Senate fails to approve migration bills

February 21, 2018

The US government shut down January 20, 2018 for three days when Senate Democrats refused to support a short-term budget bill without protections for unauthorized foreigners who were brought to the US before the age of 16. The government reopened after Republicans agreed to allow a vote on legislation to protect "Dreamers," as they were called in bills introduced in 2001.

Congress in February 2018 agreed to a two-year budget agreement that increased military and nondefense spending beyond limits of $549 billion and $519 billion, respectively.

President Obama by executive order created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program in June 2012, and about 690,000 unauthorized foreigners Dreamers had two-year work and residence permits in September 2017 when Trump ended the program; another 1.1 million eligible unauthorized youth did not apply. In most states, DACA recipients can get driver's licenses.

Trump gave Congress until March 5, 2018 to enact legislation to allow Dreamers to remain in the US legally. Most Democrats want a "clean" Dreamer bill that deals only with unauthorized foreigners brought to the US as children. Trump and many Republicans want to couple legal status for unauthorized youth with more immigration enforcement and changes to the legal immigration system.

Trump proposed a four-part bill. First would be a path to US citizenship for up to 1.8 million unauthorized youth over a 12 year period. Second would be $25 billion for a wall on the Mexico-US border. Third would be an end to the diversity visa lottery that awards 50,000 immigrant visas a year to countries that sent fewer than 50,000 immigrants during the previous five years, and fourth would be restrictions on the right of immigrants and US citizens to sponsor relatives outside their immediate families for immigrant visas after current backlogs are cleared, a bid to reduce "chain migration." Trump's plan failed on a 39-60 vote.

Senators voted 54-45 for an alternative bipartisan proposal that would have coupled legal status for 1.8 million unauthorized youth with funding for more walls and fences on the Mexico-US border; 60 votes were needed for approval. Some 654 miles of border were fenced in 2018, and Trump requested $1.6 billion for 74 miles of new and replacement fencing, a down payment on $18 billion for 700 miles of new and replacement barriers over 10 years.

A third measure that would have provided a path to citizenship and required the government to implement a border security strategy by 2021 failed on a 52-47 vote. A fourth measure that would have penalized sanctuary cities that protect unauthorized foreigners also failed on a 52-47 vote.