Sen. Richard Durbin said Monday that senators can’t even agree on the definition of border security, making it tougher to reach an agreement on an immigration bill as the Senate begins its debate.
Mr. Durbin, who was one of the four senior lawmakers working on a bipartisan deal, said the negotiations broke down over whether border security was infrastructure, manpower and technology to stop people at the line, or whether it was also policy changes to change the incentives that entice people to make the attempts.
“We never agreed on that,” the Illinois Democrat said of his negotiations with Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Steny H. Hoyer, the second-ranking Republican and Democrat in the House.
Mr. Durbin said Republicans insisted on the policy changes as part of border security. They argue the asylum system is being gamed, and that treating illegal immigrant families and children from Central America more leniently than from Mexico has resulted in a massive shift with more border crossers coming from south of Mexico now.
Mr. Durbin said there are problems that need to be dealt with, but said that can’t be tied up with the push to grant illegal immigrant “Dreamers” quick legal status.
“Believe me, we’re not going to solve that problem this week,” he said briefing reporters in anticipation of an early test vote Monday afternoon.
He’s been at the forefront of immigration negotiations for nearly two decades, and is preparing for the fourth major Senate debate on the issue in the past 12 years.
Mr. Durbin urged lawmakers to keep this one narrow, saying that including matters such as high-skilled guest-workers and changes to immigration policy beyond the border will be difficult for Democrats to swallow.
He said the crux of the compromise is to agree to Mr. Trump’s plans for a $25 billion border wall in exchange for legalizing millions of Dreamers.
Mr. Durbin said all 49 members of the Democratic caucus are unified, and said there are five or six Republicans ready to vote with them. The challenge, he said, will be to win over the final five or six Republicans who can get to the 60 votes needed to clear a bill.
But what that bill would be is still uncertain.
While Republican leaders have a proposal they’re backing, Democrats have yet to offer a party consensus bill.
Mr. Durbin said he’s considering offering a “clean” bill to legalize Dreamers without any additional security, but said there won’t be 60 votes’ support for it.