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Senators draft bipartisan framework to legalize DACA recipients and extend Trump-era border policy

<i>AP</i><br/>Sen. Thom Tillis (left) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema are pictured here in a split image.
Sen. Thom Tillis (left) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema are pictured here in a split image.

By Priscilla Alvarez and Daniella Diaz, CNN

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have landed on an initial framework intended to bolster border security and provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, sources told CNN.

Democrats have been betting on the lame-duck session — the period after the midterms and before the new Congress begins — to try to pass legislation addressing recipients of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program before they lose their majority in the House.

For months, Tillis and Sinema — who often works with Republicans — have been in discussions about a deal that would address beneficiaries of the DACA program, as well as those eligible for it, and border security.

The details are not yet finalized and there’s no legislative text. It’s also unclear whether there will be enough Senate support — at least 60 votes — to advance the legislation.

Senate aides stressed that the framework is a draft. The White House and Senate leadership have also not been involved in discussions, one of the aides said.

The framework for the bill has at least $25 billion to $40 billion in border security funding, including a pay raise for Border Patrol agents and additional resources for Customs and Border Protection officers, according to two Senate aides. It also shores up resources to speed up the processing of asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border, the aides said.

Most notably, the framework includes the extension of a controversial Trump-era border policy, known as Title 42, that allows for the expulsion of migrants who are encountered at the US southern border. The public health authority, which was put in place at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, is set to end later this month following a court order.

The authority would remain in place for at least a year, the aides said, while processing centers are set up.

Progressive Democrats have opposed Title 42 since its inception and will likely not support legislation to extend it, while senior Republicans have been clear about wanting stringent border restrictions with any immigration reform.

Immigrant advocates expressed cautious optimism over the draft framework Monday.

“The reported news is the contours of a compromise. It is critical that this process continue to move ahead. We know that those who want to see Dreamers forced out their jobs and subjected to deportation will try to kill any relief. People should be very clear: if Congress fails to pass legislation during the lame duck period, the consequences will be devastating,” President Todd Schulte said in a statement.

For years, Congress has tried and failed to pass legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship or otherwise address the immigration system. But Democratic lawmakers were hoping to strike an agreement with Republicans to provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients during the lame duck session.

DACA, created in 2012, was intended to provide temporary reprieve to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, a group often described as “Dreamers.” Many of them are now adults.

Most recently, a federal appeals court largely upheld a lower court ruling finding the program unlawful and sent the case back — renewing urgency in addressing the population.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin — an Illinois Democrat and longtime advocate of Dreamers — said he supports the framework from Tillis and Sinema.

“As the author of the original Dream Act more than 20 years ago, I applaud every good faith effort to give these deserving individuals a path to citizenship. I’ve been in touch with my colleagues and will carefully review their proposal,” Durbin said in a statement. “I am determined to do everything in my power to help deliver a Christmas Miracle for Dreamers.”

Neither Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office nor Minority Leader Mitchel McConnell’s office responded to CNN’s request for comment on the bill or whether it will get a floor vote during the lame duck session.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about the draft on Monday. She responded, “The President has repeatedly called on Congress to permanently protect Dreamers, farmworkers, essential workers, and others and to provide them with a pathway to citizenship.”

“We are committed to working with members of Congress of both parties on real solutions to modernize our outdated immigration systems,” she added.

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