CongressImmigrationNews

Michael Bennet, Cory Gardner ramp up push for ‘Gang of Six’ immigration fix to avert government shutdown

Author: Ernest Luning - January 18, 2018 - Updated: February 15, 2018

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U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, discuss a bipartisan immigration reform bill the Colorado lawmakers are proposing along with four other senators intended to help avert a government shutdown. (Photo courtesy U.S. Senate)U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, discuss their bipartisan immigration reform bill earlier this year. (Photo courtesy U.S. Senate)

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner said Thursday an immigration package they’ve crafted with four other senators — the bipartisan “Gang of Six” — meets demands set at one point by President Donald Trump and could offer a way forward as Congress scrambles to find the votes to avert a looming government shutdown, although leading Republicans and the White House have so far given the proposal a cold shoulder.

After the two senators spoke with reporters from Washington, D.C., the GOP-controlled House passed a bill to keep the federal government running for four weeks, but the legislation’s prospects appeared dim in the Senate, where Democrats have said they’ll block a temporary measure that doesn’t include a deal to protect immigrants brought to the United States as children, known as “Dreamers.”

Democrats, including Bennet, vowed to support a funding measure only if it included protections for immigrants covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program rescinded by Trump last year and set to expire entirely in March.

Negotiated over a four-month period, the proposed legislation includes points earlier articulated by Trump as essential to an immigration fix, the two senators said, although Trump appears to have laid down different requirements as the threat of a shutdown has neared.

“I think senators can stand on their own feet,” Bennet said. “If they’re waiting for the White House to tell them exactly what they’ll take to settle the deal, it’s likely they will wait in vain, and we won’t meet the deadline we were trying to achieve.”

Funding for the federal government runs out at midnight on Friday night.

The bill proposed by Bennet and Gardner would protect eligible, undocumented immigrants who had been covered under  DACA — an estimated 700,000 nationwide and 17,000 in Colorado  — from deportation and set them on a lengthy path to citizenship. It would also prevent Dreamers from sponsoring family members, putting an end to what critics, including Trump, call “chain migration,” while creating three-year, renewable work permits for them.

“Our concern was to keep families together,” Bennet said.

Bowing to Republican demands, the bill would also allocate $2.7 million in initial funding for a border wall with Mexico and other border-security improvements — short of the full funding for Trump’s signature initiative that White House officials said Thursday they require. It  would put an end to the diversity visa lottery, applying those visas to other immigration programs.

“It is not an agreement I would have written on my own,” Bennet said, adding that he nonetheless believes it’s the foundation of an deal both parties can accept. “I have a pretty good sense of what the gives and the takes have been.”

“I don’t think we should shut the government down,” he said. “We should come to an agreement here. We should stay here and do our work until the question of the Dreamers is resolved.”

Gardner, the Republican, said he would support a continuing resolution to keep the government funded but joined his colleague stressing he would continue working to gain bipartisan support for the immigration bill.

He also noted that the two have introduced legislation to require Congress to keep working toward a solution if the clock runs out and a shutdown happens.

“We need to get our work done,” Gardner said, adding, that their bill would mean that “people can’t pack up their sticks and go home, they can’t go to their respective political corners and retreat. They have to stay and get the job done.”

He called his bipartisan partnership with Bennet “unique to Colorado.”

Along with their four cohorts on the current gang — also including Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Dick Durban of Illinois — Bennet was a member of the bipartisan Gang of Eight, which put together an immigration reform deal that passed the Senate in 2013 before floundering in the House, where Gardner served at the time.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.