WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump held firm to his demands on Wednesday in a U.S. immigration policy fight with Democrats even as a bipartisan group of senators prepared to unveil a new plan for protecting "Dreamers" immigrants and beefing up border security.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake said a bipartisan group is "drafting the language and expect to introduce" later in the day a new measure intended to break a Senate deadlock on immigration.
A key goal of Democrats is winning protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants dubbed "Dreamers" who entered the United States illegally as children, safeguards that Trump rescinded effective on March 5. But Trump is demanding a broader immigration policy overhaul that also funds a U.S.-Mexican border wall and puts restrictions on legal immigration.
In a statement released by the White House, the Republican president urged the Senate to support legislation offered by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley that embraces Trump's immigration ideas.
"I am asking all senators, in both parties, to support the Grassley bill," Trump said.
A comprehensive immigration policy overhaul has eluded Congress for years.
Democrats said Trump's demand was frustrating efforts to reach a narrower deal they could support. Republicans control the Senate 51-49 but immigration legislation would need 60 votes to pass, meaning some Democratic support is required.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor, said, "President Trump is trying to force his hard-line immigration agenda down the throats of the American people." He called the Grassley bill "extreme."
Schumer said bipartisan negotiations were "ongoing and perhaps very close to a solution."
'CLEAR THE WAY'
A wide-open debate underway in the Senate fulfils a pledge by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who controls the Senate's agenda, to allow such a vigorous discussion.
"I promised I would clear the way to debate these matters this week - and I have," McConnell said in a statement.
Trump in September announced he was rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, created in 2012 under his Democratic predecessor President Barack Obama, that protects Dreamers from deportation and offers them work permits. About 700,000 are currently protected by the DACA programme.
Federal judges have blocked Trump's bid to end the programme while litigation over the matter continues.
Trump and Grassley are insisting that any legislation include "four pillars" - help for the Dreamers; funding for Trump's border wall; ending a visa lottery programme; and imposing curbs on visas for the families of legal immigrants.
Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday his chamber "clearly" must address legislation next month to deal with the Dreamers. Ryan told reporters Trump "did a very good job of putting a sincere offer on the table."
The White House said on Wednesday it opposes another bipartisan immigration measure proposed by Senators John McCain and Chris Coons, saying it would boost illegal immigration and fail to fix other immigration practices opposed by Trump.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Richard Cowan; Writing by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Will Dunham)