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Senators Set to Propose Legislation to Help Dreamers With Pathway to Citizenship

The legislation would seek to protect Dreamers, but would also increase funding for enforcing border patrol.

Immigrants walk along the U.S.-Mexico border barrier in the early morning hours on their way to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing from Mexico, on May 23, 2022, in Yuma, Arizona.

Two U.S. senators are pushing for last-minute immigration reform that would provide a pathway for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who were brought here years ago, oftentimes referred to as Dreamers, to become citizens.

But the bipartisan compromise proposed by Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) in the final weeks of the current congressional session comes with some serious caveats, including the continuation of a racist and illegal immigrant policy started under former President Donald Trump.

The framework of the legislation is not yet finalized, according to sources who spoke to NBC News, but it does include extending Title 42 for at least an additional year. The policy, ostensibly implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has expelled millions of asylum seekers to the U.S. by requiring them to remain in Mexico as their lengthy asylum process plays out, in violation of international law.

The framework would also seek to expedite the asylum process by providing funding to hire more asylum officers, including litigation teams and immigration judges. In addition, it would include $25 billion in added funding to boost border security efforts, increasing staffing for border patrol units and raising pay for current border patrol agents.

Immigration groups are sounding the alarm over what the proposed package may include. Jeremy Robbins, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council, responded to the news with both elation and warning.

“The majority of Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, believe that undocumented youth deserve a path to remain in the United States permanently. It’s long past time for Congress to act, which is why we welcome news of ongoing bipartisan negotiations on immigration and encourage lawmakers to keep working on a solution for Dreamers,” Robbins said in a statement.

“At the same time,” Robbins continued, “we are concerned with measures that would weaken the United States’ asylum system and stop vulnerable migrants from seeking asylum. 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.”

The legislation faces difficult odds of passage — in addition to the hard task of producing a bipartisan bill capable of attaining 60 votes in the Senate to bypass a filibuster, the bill must also pass during a so-called “lame duck” session, a time when legislation often faces steeper barriers due to lawmakers who may seek to delay consideration of legislation until the next session of Congress.

If the immigration package is delayed, it is highly unlikely that Republicans in the House (who would control that chamber starting in January) and Democrats in the Senate could find a compromise on immigration reform in the next session.

Other issues abound that make passing the bill more challenging — including the necessary funding of the government that takes greater priority (and may take more time) for passage in Congress.

But there is urgency in passing legislation now rather than delaying, including the possibility that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the policy protecting Dreamers, could be upended by the conservative Supreme Court.

“Right now, we need to make it a priority to pass bipartisan legislation before the end of the year to save DACA from a conservative, extreme judiciary preparing to end it once and for all,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-New York), who is himself a former undocumented immigrant. “It’s now or never for Dreamers and the only solution is legislation.”

A Senate aide speaking with NBC News about the issue believes that the legislation being proposed by Sinema and Tillis has a better chance of passing than usual, however. “They have clearly found a successful equation here,” the aide said to the news agency.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) also welcomed the opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation.

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