WASHINGTON — Six senators say they’ve reached a bipartisan agreement to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation and strengthen border security.
The group including Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, top Senate Democrat Dick Durbin and other pro-immigration senators has been working for months in hopes of securing legislation to extend Obama-era protections called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
The lawmakers say they’re seeking enough support to push the deal through Congress.
“President Trump called on Congress to solve the DACA challenge. We have been working for four months and have reached an agreement in principle that addresses border security, the diversity visa lottery, chain migration/family reunification, and the Dream Act—the areas outlined by the President. We are now working to build support for that deal in Congress,” the senators said in a statement.
In an Oval Office meeting, President Donald Trump questioned why the deal includes restoring protections for people from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, the Washington Post reported, according to two people briefed on the meeting. Trump was referring to the African countries and Haiti, the people said.
The comments came during a meeting that included Durbin, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as well as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who want to tighten immigration rules.
The significance of the senators’ agreement was initially unclear. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said no deal has been reached and said the White House would keep working toward an agreement.
Three Republican and three Democratic senators have been working for months on a plan to protect people who arrived in the U.S. as children, many illegally. They had been shielded from deportation by Obama-era regulations that President Donald Trump has ended and will expire in March.
The senators say the deal also revamps a visa lottery and rules helping immigrants’ relatives enter the U.S.
“Sen. Flake’s bipartisan group — the only bipartisan group that has been negotiating a DACA fix — has struck a deal,” said Flake spokesman Jason Samuels. “The next step is taking it to the White House.”
It’s not clear whether it would resolve the fight over protecting nearly 800,000 young immigrants. The White House declined to immediately provide comment, and it was not certain whether the group’s plan could pass Congress.
In a further complication, the group is but one faction on Capitol Hill working on the issue, which took on urgency in September when President Donald Trump reversed DACA protections put in place by then-President Barack Obama, saying Congress should address it.