WASHINGTON: The U.S. Senate failed to advance any legislation to protect "Dreamer" immigrants on Thursday, falling short of the 60 votes needed to move forward on four proposals including one backed by President Donald Trump and two bipartisan measures.
The series of votes came after Trump slammed the leading bipartisan proposal as "a total catastrophe," and the White House threatened to veto the bill, which had been considered the most likely to get through a deeply divided Senate.
The outcome concluded a week of Senate consideration of immigration issues and left in limbo the future status of 1.8 million young adults brought to the United States illegally as children. They had been protected from deportation under an Obama-era program that Trump has ordered to end by March 5.
The proposal backed by Trump garnered the fewest votes of all, leading Democrats to complain the president's uncompromising approach was sinking bipartisan efforts in Congress.
Trump has said any immigration bill to protect Dreamers should also include funds to build a border wall with Mexico, end the visa lottery program and impose curbs on visas for the families of legal immigrants. He had urged support for a measure by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, but that bill gained only 39 votes in support.
"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.
After the failure, some lawmakers and immigration advocates vowed to pursue temporary protections for the Dreamers. Republican Senator Bob Corker told reporters there could be debate about a short-term Dreamers extension on a government funding bill that Congress must pass by March 23 to avoid a shutdown.
The leading bipartisan measure, crafted by a group led by Republican Senator Susan Collins, would have protected the Dreamers and also 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 criticized the bill, saying it would weaken enforcement of current law and produce a flood of illegal immigration. The Department of Homeland Security and Attorney General Jeff Sessions also had blasted it. It fell short on a 54-45 vote.
A narrow bill focusing just on Dreamers and border security, 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.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had set a deadline for the Senate to pass an immigration measure by the end of this week.
Although the protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are due to start expiring on March 5, federal judges have blocked that from taking effect amid ongoing litigation.
Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, noted an overwhelming majority of Americans support 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 Frances Kerry and Cynthia Osterman)