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Immigration debate kicks off in the Senate as McConnell endorses bill that follows Trump's plan

Congress is set to begin debate on an immigration measure that would provide legal status for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The long-awaited debate over an immigration bill has begun, as senators voted 97-1 on Monday afternoon to begin an open-amendment debate on a bill that would grant permanent legal status to recipients for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opened the bidding by introducing the Secure and Succeed Act, which follows the broad outlines of the White House's plan: It provides permanent legal status to "Dreamers," includes $25 billion in funding for border security, and makes changes to the chain migration and visa lottery systems that have been requested by President Donald Trump and other White House staff. The bill was sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

What the final bill will look like, of course, is anyone's guess, especially with the open amendment process that Senate Democrats negotiated for as part of the deal to end the brief January government shutdown. Under this process, any one of the 100 senators is permitted to offer an amendment, which can be passed with simple majority support. Democrats hope that this process will lead to a bill that represents a more middle-of-the-road bipartisan compromise. However, if the bill does not address all four of the key areas Trump has publicly pressed for, the final version may face a filibuster from Senate Republicans or perhaps even a presidential veto.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has explicitly pushed for a bill that is as narrow as possible focusing solely on granting legal status for Dreamers. However, even Senate Democrats have privately acknowledged that the bill will likely need at least additional border security funding to stand any chance of passing. Democrats hope to keep revisions to chain migration and any reduction in legal immigration off the table during the course of the debate.

President Trump announced that the "deferred action" in the DACA program would end on March 5 if Congress did not pass legislation to make Dreamers permanent legal residents. The White House has given no indication that they are willing to extend this deadline if Congress is still debating the measure when the deferred action period expires.

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