WASHINGTON — A leader of Senate Democrats’ drive to help millions of immigrants become citizens cast severe doubt on its prospects Monday, as one of President Joe Biden’s early priorities seemed in danger of running aground in a Congress his own party controls.
Republican demands to address the surge of young children and families at the Mexican border, plus a lack of needed support in both the House and Senate, were making passage of a comprehensive bill unlikely, No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois told reporters.
“I don’t see a means of reaching” legislation in this two-year Congress, Durbin said. “I want it. I think we are much more likely to deal with discrete elements” of such a plan.
Biden has proposed creating a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
In recent days, the numbers of immigrant children and families trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico has grown to numbers unseen since before the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans have highlighted that influx, as they seek to play offense against Democrats who won passage of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that polls show has won wide public approval.
In its first weeks, the Biden administration has been searching for ways to ease former President Donald Trump’s harsh immigration policies, which included separating children from families caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally as way to discourage them.
Durbin spoke three days before the House plans to approve a pair of bills that would advance pieces of Democrats’ immigration agenda.
One of those House bills would open up a chance for citizenship for Dreamers, who are U.S. residents brought to the country illegally as children, and for people who fled war-torn countries. The other would make it easier for many immigrant farm workers to stay in the U.S. and in some cases become citizens.
Both face uphill fights in the Senate, where Democrats would likely need at least 10 GOP votes in the 50-50 chamber.
“I think Speaker Pelosi has discovered that she doesn’t have support for the comprehensive bill in the House,” Durbin said of Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., where the narrow Democratic majority gives them just a handful of votes to spare. “And I think that indicates where it is in the Senate as well.”
Moments later, Durbin suggested that it would be hard to get enough votes to approve even those broadly popular pieces of the effort that the House was on track to approve.
“We need Republican votes,” said Durbin. He noted that top Republicans are insisting that the border problem become part of the discussion about legislation and called it “a very difficult area, what to do with the children.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a GOP immigration leader who’s participated in past efforts to reach compromises on the issue, agreed that the prospects seemed dim.
“I think it’s going to be really difficult with what’s going on at the border,” Graham told reporters.