Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has made passing immigration reform, including creating a pathway to citizenship for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a top priority for the Senate in the last few months of the 117th Congress.
“My message to Senate Republicans is this: Work with us,” said Schumer in a press conference held outside the Capitol building Wednesday. “Work with us on this widely supported policy so we can reach an agreement that will protect families and strengthen our economy.”
His comments were echoed by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate Majority Whip, who has publicly saidthat passing such legislation is a “high priority this month in the Senate.” He claimed that he had “four or five” Republican votes to do so, with about the same number being needed in order to get to 60 votes to avoid a GOP filibuster.
The presence of several outgoing Republican Senators in the chamber has presented Democrats with a rare opportunity to get GOP support, which has previously been elusive given Republican primary voters’ opposition to immigration relief for immigrants who entered the country illegally. Currently, Republican senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio and Richard Shelby of Alabama are retiring from the Senate, while Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska is widely expected to resign his seat and become the next President of the University of Florida.
Blunt has publicly stated that immigration reform would be “a pretty easy thing to accomplish if they want to accomplish that,” as reported by Roll Call. Such prospects are likely to be extinguished in January with a GOP-controlled House in the next Congress, with House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy opposing the measure.
In 2013, a bipartisan group of eight senators, led by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which included a pathway to citizenship, with 68 votes in the Senate. The group, known as the “Gang of Eight”, later saw their bill fail in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, where opposition from Tea Party Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus derailed its passage.
The bill’s passage has become urgent to Democrats following back-to-back court rulings against DACA. In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled, on appeal, that the program, started in 2012 by President Barack Obama by executive order, was unconstitutional, though it has been left in place pending further action.
The last time a major immigration reform bill passed the Congress, with bipartisan support, was in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. That law provided general amnesty to illegal immigrants while seeking to strengthen the enforcement of immigration laws.
Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s offices did not respond to a request for comment.
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