Apr 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan Senate group seeks immigration deals

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is seen during a congressional hearing.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A bipartisan group of senators that met privately Wednesday agreed to have their staffs draft a document outlining incremental immigration changes so they "can build from there," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Axios.

Why it matters: The Republicans and Democrats recognize that Congress has failed numerous times to pass comprehensive reform, so now they're looking for a starting point amid a migrant surge at the southern border.

Behind the scenes: The group, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), met behind closed doors in the Mansfield Room, steps away from the Senate floor.

  • Attendees included Cornyn and Durbin, as well as Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
  • Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) called in.
  • The biggest areas of consensus were protections for so-called Dreamers and preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), according to a source familiar with the discussion.

What they're saying: "I was making the argument, and I think people generally understand, that we're not going to do comprehensive immigration reform on this," Cornyn told Axios.

  • "We do incremental a lot better," he added. "Unfortunately, there's not a lot of trust. But I think if we did something that is pretty much consensus, like DACA, then that would be confidence-building, and then we'd kind of move on to the next."
  • Durbin said: “We did not reach any conclusions. ... We put many ideas on the table. And we're going to invite the administration to look at them and join us in this conversation."
  • "I think we agree on a bipartisan basis that we've got to reform the system, as far as we can take it," Durbin added.

Yes, but: There's already one hiccup.

  • While Durbin told reporters he sees the immigration bills that recently passed in the Democratic-controlled House as "starting points,” most Republicans see them as non-starters.
  • "I think that'd be a mistake. There wouldn't be any support for the House bills," Cornyn told Axios.
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