By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate rejected a series of bills to protect “Dreamer” immigrants on Thursday, leaving in limbo the future of 1.8 million young adults brought to the United States illegally as children.
The Senate failed to get the 60 votes needed to move forward on four separate proposals, including one backed by President Donald Trump and a separate bipartisan bill that had been the most likely to win approval in the deeply divided Senate.
Trump helped defeat the bipartisan bill, which went down in a 54-45 vote, by labeling it just hours earlier as “a total catastrophe.”
He instead backed a Republican plan that would offer Dreamers a path to citizenship but also commit funding to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and impose much tougher restrictions on legal immigration
In a blow to the Republican president, 14 senators from his own party opposed that bill, which failed by an emphatic 60-39 vote.
The Senate votes were the latest in a series of failures in Congress in recent years to pass a comprehensive immigration plan, and left lawmakers and immigration advocates searching for a way forward for the young Dreamers.
Democrats complained Trump’s uncompromising approach was sinking efforts to find a deal in Congress.
“This vote is proof that President Trump’s plan will never become law. If he would stop torpedoing bipartisan efforts, a good bill would pass,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.
The White House in a statement late on Thursday blamed Democrats for the failure to pass legislation, saying that “they are not serious about immigration reform, and they are not serious about homeland security.”
Although the protections under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are due to start expiring on March 5, federal judges have blocked that from taking effect amid litigation.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, who has worked with Democrats in trying to find an immigration deal, told reporters there could now be debate on attaching a short-term extension of protections from deportation for Dreamers on a government funding bill that Congress must pass by March 23.
“This does not have to be the end of our efforts to resolve these matters,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the vote, although he blamed Democrats for the deadlock. “I would encourage members to put away the talking points to get serious about finding a solution that can actually become law.”
While Trump has offered a deal for Dreamers, he has also insisted on building a border wall, ending a visa lottery program and imposing curbs on visas for the families of legal immigrants.
The White House pushed Trump’s preferred bill, introduced by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, but the 14 Republicans who voted against it included John Thune and John Barrasso, members of the Senate Republican leadership, and conservatives such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
The leading bipartisan measure, crafted by a group led by Republican Senator Susan Collins, would have protected the Dreamers and included a $25 billion fund to strengthen border security and possibly even build segments of Trump’s long-promised border wall with Mexico.
But the White House threatened a veto, saying the proposal would weaken enforcement of current law and produce a flood of illegal immigration. The Department of Homeland Security and Attorney General Jeff Sessions also blasted it.
A narrow bill focusing just on Dreamers and border security, put forward by Republican John McCain and Democrat Chris Coons, failed on a 52-47 vote.
A fourth measure, focused on punishing “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts, also fell short of 60 votes.
“It looks like demagogues on the left and the right win again on immigration,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who backed all four proposals.
McConnell had set a deadline for the Senate to pass an immigration measure by the end of Thursday.
But Senator Mike Rounds, a leading Republican sponsor of the failed bipartisan proposal, said senators would keep trying.
“We’ll have a chance to regroup, and take a look at what we can do to take a bipartisan approach, modify some of those things where there are questions,” he said. “The issues are not going to go away. We’ve still got DACA kids that are going to have to be addressed. We’ve still got a border security system that the president says is a priority. We want to give him an opportunity to make that a success.”.
Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, noted an overwhelming majority of Americans supported protections for Dreamers.
“It is noteworthy that the only vote to reach a supermajority of 60 votes was the resounding defeat of Trump’s racist and radical immigration plan,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Katanga Johnson and Makini Brice; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)