January 27, 2023
Two moderate senators are floating a draft framework that would combine a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants brought to the US as minors with border security.

Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., are reviving talks on a potential immigration agreement that would see a pathway to citizenship combined with border security measures — an effort to see if there is appetite for a reform bill before Republicans take the House early next year.

Sources familiar with negotiations told Fox News that the two lawmakers have a draft framework for discussion that would see a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program combined with border security funding. A Senate aide stressed that the discussions are in a very early stage and that the senators are circulating the framework to see if there is interest and a potential agreement. Another said that it was incorrect at this stage to describe the draft as a “deal.”

The border security measures would include keeping Title 42 — a Trump-era public health order that has been used to expel a majority of migrants at the border, but that is due to be wound down later this month — in place for at least one year, with a metric component in place for extensions.

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Other border security elements would include hiring more Border Patrol agents as well as pay increases, and the creation of regional processing centers to surge resources at the border and judge asylum claims — a provision included in last year’s Bipartisan Border Solutions Act. It would also include resources for detention, deportation and expedited removal of illegal immigrants. 

A source said that the funding for such measures would be at least $25 billion and could be upwards of $40 billion, which would be significantly higher than border security funding in previous versions of DACA-for-border security proposals.

That would be combined with a pathway to citizenship for what is estimated to be two million illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors and are eligible for protection under the 2012 DACA program

The push for such a move has been given a sense of urgency after a federal appeals court kept in place a bar on further DACA enrollments after finding the program to be illegal.

“We have a population that is not reproducing on its own with the same level that it used to,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last month. “The only way we’re going to have a great future in America is if we welcome and embrace immigrants, the dreamers and all of them, because our ultimate goal is to help the dreamers, but get a path to citizenship for all 11 million or however many undocumented there are here. And we will be pursuing that in the next Senate.”

Additionally, the looming end to Title 42 on Dec. 21, and fears that it could lead to yet another surge in illegal migration at the border, has also fueled talks about finding an agreement.

However, some Democrats have balked at increases in enforcement, detention and removal, while many Republicans have ruled out any form of “amnesty” as long as there is an ongoing crisis at the southern border. 

Fox is told that there are questions about whether it would be possible to pass the bill in the next three weeks, and that there are multiple Republicans who oppose it. Meanwhile, time is running out for any bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants with Republicans set to take the House early next year.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has called any form of amnesty a “non-starter” in the next Congress.

“No amnesty,” he told Fox News in October.

Meanwhile, immigration hawks have been lobbying hard against any possible deal in the lame-duck session. Recently, a number of groups and former officials sent letters to Congressional urging them to unite against any such deal in the lame-duck.

One of those groups, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) took aim at the discussions this week, saying it had been hopeful that with the ongoing border crisis, Democrats were going to “wise up” and move to secure the border.

“Well, why would they do that when a Republican is ready and willing to ignore his constituents and amnesty millions in exchange for reforms that are nothing more than window dressing,” RJ Hauman, head of government relations and communications, said in a statement. “It wouldn’t matter if he got $250 billion in funding or a 10 year Title 42 extension — unless Congress changes asylum and detention policies without amnesty involved, the crisis will continue.”

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FILE: Migrants attempting to cross in to the U.S. from Mexico are detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the border August 20, 2022 in San Luis, Arizona. 

FILE: Migrants attempting to cross in to the U.S. from Mexico are detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the border August 20, 2022 in San Luis, Arizona.  (Nick Ut/Getty Images)

“You can tweet about the border crisis all you want, but quietly negotiating an eleventh hour mass amnesty deal shows where your true priorities lie,” he said.

Former acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan and former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Tom Homan, released a statement describing the proposal as “nothing more than amnesty, cloaked with the fig leaf of ‘more funding’ for Border Patrol.”

“In reality, this proposal would do nothing except encourage more families around the world to put their children, of all ages, in the hands of the cartels, enriching these blood-thirsty and savage organizations, driving even-higher numbers of unaccompanied minors to the border, and further overwhelming an already besieged Border Patrol,” they said.

The plan drew praise from immigration advocate group, with the National Immigration Forum calling it “”exactly the kind of bipartisan problem-solving Americans want.” 

“This reported framework is a strong step forward for this Congress to arrive at actual solutions. Americans know we need these kinds of solutions to address inflation, labor turmoil and border challenges,” President and CEO Jennie Murray said.

The American Immigration Council welcomed the news of the talks and said it encouraged lawmakers to “keep working on a solution for Dreamers.” — but warned against measures that would “weaken the United States’ asylum system and stop vulnerable migrants from seeking asylum.

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“We urge negotiators to reach a deal which protects people who have been living here nearly all their lives, while also respecting the fundamental right to protection which is enshrined in our laws and history,” Executive Director Jeremy Robbins said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who was the author of the original legislation to provide protection for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, released a statement saying he applauds “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,” he said. “I am determined to do everything in my power to help deliver a Christmas Miracle for Dreamers.”

Fox News’ Rich Edson and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.