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Bipartisan duo makes last-minute push for immigration deal

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Thom Tillis have been sharing a "draft framework" with colleagues that would couple protections for "Dreamers" with new border security funds.
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., left, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., leave the Senate chamber on Feb. 25, 2020.
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., left, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., leave the Senate chamber on Feb. 25, 2020.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan Senate duo has launched a last-minute push to enact immigration reform before the end of the year.

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., have been sharing with colleagues what they are calling a “draft framework” that includes $25 billion to beef up border security in exchange for a pathway to citizenship for roughly 2 million “Dreamers,” young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents, according to a Senate aide familiar with the effort.

The framework, which sources said is "in flux," also calls for extending Title 42 for at least a year until the creation of “regional processing centers” along the border which would be staffed with increased resources and personnel to accommodate arriving asylum seekers. Title 42 is a Trump-era Covid policy that allowed authorities to restrict asylum-seekers from crossing the border into the U.S.

And the framework, first reported by the Washington Post, would expedite the asylum process by making investments in asylum officers, litigation teams, and immigration judges and courts, the Senate aide said. It also includes additional investments in removal operations for immigrants who’ve absconded or received final removal orders.

Under the proposal, the boost in border security would include higher salaries for border patrol agents, and increased staffing and other resources for border patrol and border protection.

Passing any immigration bill in the post-election, lame duck session would be a heavy lift for Congress, given that it has a lengthy laundry list to tackle in the coming weeks and lawmakers haven’t made significant progress on the politically tricky issue in decades.

But Sinema and Tillis, both moderates, have had a track record of legislative wins. They teamed up this summer to help pass a major gun reform bill after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and were part of a bipartisan group that struck a deal on a religious freedom amendment that cleared the way for the Senate to pass legislation protecting same-sex marriage.

“They have clearly found a successful equation here," the Senate aide said.

If they can strike a deal, pro-immigration reform members are hoping to attach their proposal to a bill to keep the government funded that must pass later this month.

“As author of the Dream Act, I applaud every good faith effort to give these deserving individuals a path to citizenship. I’ve been in touch w/ my colleagues & will carefully review their proposal,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., tweeted on Monday. 

“I’m determined to do everything to help deliver a Christmas Miracle for Dreamers.”