Trump calls immigration debate “last chance” for action as Senate weighs competing plans

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Tuesday cast the debate to revamp the nation’s immigration laws as the “last chance” for action as the Senate weighed competing proposals to legalize millions of young undocumented immigrants and fulfill his goal of bolstering U.S.-Mexico border security.

But yet another federal court ruling Tuesday regarding the legality of an Obama-era program shielding young foreign-born “dreamers” from deportation served as a reminder that Trump’s March 5 deadline for congressional action is mostly moot.

After months of anticipation sparked by Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Senate debate on immigration sputtered at the start, with the chamber mostly dormant Tuesday as top party leaders negotiated which proposals might earn a vote.

“I’m ready to get started,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters shortly after trying to accelerate the debate by introducing a Republican proposal to punish cities that refuse to help enforce federal immigration laws. The move was blocked by Democrats who said the proposal would not address the more urgent legal status of dreamers.

“This is the debate they said they wanted,” McConnell said of Democrats. “I said we’d have an open and fair process. We’re trying to do that, and the sooner we get started the better, because we’ll need to wrap this up this week.”

Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed that the debate should be quick. “The sooner, the better,” he said, adding later that if a bipartisan deal is able to get the requisite 60 votes to survive procedural challenges and pass: “Let it rip. Let’s go.”

But the feeble launch of the debate showed yet again how immigration remains an intractable problem for Congress. Bipartisan negotiations – now under their third president – have failed to garner significant changes in the legal status of undocumented immigrants, how visas are granted to legal immigrants or how the nation protects the Southern border.

Winning support from Democrats will be key in the closely divided Senate, but Republicans complained that the other party was needlessly prolonging the debate.

“We’re all a little mystified on why the Democrats are refusing to have the debate and the votes they asked for,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., shot back that his party was focused on writing bipartisan proposals instead of partisan plans destined to fail.

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