A bipartisan immigration deal that would provide relief to nearly 800,000 Dreamers who are awaiting news about their fate in the country appeared all but certain in the Senate Thursday, according to a number of people involved in the negotiations.
Its key feature is likely to be a compromise on border security, which Democrats have largely attempted to resist in talks about the fate of Dreamers, or young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
While many Republican lawmakers concede that the large-scale border wall envisioned by Trump is neither necessary nor feasible, they continue to insist on a range of security measures, including increased enforcement and technology at specific sections along the 2,000 mile track.
Republican Senator Tom Lankford, of Oklahoma, told Univision's Al Punto show hours before Thursday’s Senate discussions that he believes in being “compassionate” towards Dreamers and helping them achieve citizenship.
"But along with our compassion we should also know that we have good solid gates [at our border] where people can come and go, and we also have walls in sections where we need them,” he said.
A number of Democrats signaled they're ready to settle. “There is broad agreement that this needs to be done," said Philip Wolgin, Director for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, a left-of-center Washington DC think tank. "Compromise is very definitely in the air."
Any potential bipartisan deal appears now to rest on just how much border security both sides are willing to go along with, observers say. “I don’t think anyone really believes we would just have DACA with nothing else connected to it, so the devil is in the details,” Wolgin said.
“There are investments we can make in border security that make sense,” he added, including modernizing border crossings and improving Border patrol recruitment and training.
When Trump ended the DACA program in September, he gave Congress until March to strike a deal. But Democrats are using a Jan. 19 deadline on a government spending package as leverage for quicker action.
The president has sent a number of mixed-messages on DACA. During his campaign, he said he would immediately end the Obama-era program once in office and deport beneficiaries. But he’s repeatedly shown he has a soft spot for Dreamers.
On Tuesday, the president suggested in a rare meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders that he supported a compassionate solution, which he said should be a “bill of love.”
Any package reached by Senators in the coming days is likely to mirror the parameters laid out by Trump during that meeting. In addition to providing a path to citizenship for Dreamers, he underscored the importance of dealing with questions about the legal status of their family members, known as "chain migration," as well as the visa lottery program.
“When Trump says he wants a DACA bill he’s always including those things in it,” Lankford told Univision.
The visa lottery program in question allocates 50,000 immigrant visas to people from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S.
On Thursday a bipartisan deal forged by a group of six Senators appeared to be closing on an agreement, though it would still need the backing of party leaders.
Another bipartisan deal was proposed this week in the House of Representatives by Will Hurd, a Texas Republican and Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat.
Several Democrats appeared worried that moderate lawmakers in their party, led by Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic Whip, would give up too much in a deal to protect Dreamers. The vast majority of Democrats oppose any sort of border wall, which was one of Trump's signature campaign promises.
Dreamers should not be a bargaining chip used by this Administration to build a wasteful border wall. Period.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 10, 2018
Though the deal may hand Trump and Republicans a victory, one thing is certain: the beefed-up border security will be a far cry from Trump's proposed "big, beautiful wall."
“I would say there’s no need for a wall on the vast majority of the border,” Lankford said.