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With budget agreement in place, Gardner looks to focus on immigration

GOP lawmaker anxious to move past legislative spending battles
Gardner

WASHINGTON – The government shut down for five hours early Friday.

Another failure by Congress to pass a temporary spending bill – the fifth since Sept. 30 – led to the second government shut down in three weeks. This bill raises controversial caps on federal spending by hundreds of billions of dollars and establishes a framework for a larger two-year spending deal, which is expected to pass before funding from this continuing resolution expires March 23.

With a bipartisan agreement in place for a long-term spending deal, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., hopes to put contentious spending fights to rest so Congress can focus on immigration. He has helped in negotiations since President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in early September.

“I think what this does is it frees up the opportunity to have this debate finally on the floor,” Gardner said in a phone interview Wednesday about budget battles that have consumed much of the legislative session.

Gardner is optimistic that the Senate will turn its attention next week to address legal protections for the 800,000 DACA recipients, 17,300 of whom live and work in Colorado.

“By Wednesday of next week, I think, hopefully, we (will) have significant progress being made,” Gardner said.

A bipartisan group of senators, known as the Gang of Six, continues to meet to discuss a potential fix as urgency to address the issue rises. Gardner and fellow Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, are working closely. Both have been involved with the group since last year because they support a pathway to citizenship. They also co-sponsored the DREAM Act.

The group of senators working on the issue has expanded beyond six since the beginning of January. Gardner said there were 30 to 35 Democrats and Republicans at a recent meeting.

“I hope we can get that (an immigration deal) done,” he said. “I think we can. We have to do it.”

In his State of the Union address last week, Trump outlined his immigration plan, which included four pillars. Trump said he would support a 12-year pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers – children brought to the United States illegally by their parents – in exchange for $25 billion for a border wall, the end of the visa lottery program and halting “chain migration.”

Discussions are ongoing on Capitol Hill as senators weigh their ideas against the White House’s.

“It’s basically continued negotiations right now on what could be, I hope, a unifying agreement,” Gardner said.

A bipartisan meeting at the beginning of the week hit a snag on the issue of “chain migration,” Gardner said. But on Tuesday, he saw encouraging signs that discussions had turned a corner.

“Chain migration” is a concern immigration restriction advocates have with a U.S. visa program that allows immigrants who obtain citizenship to sponsor visas for an unlimited number of spouses, minor children and parents.

Trump has said the program allows new citizens to bring over as many people as they want. But, in fact, the visa program caps the number of married children and adult siblings allowed entry, and sponsorship to bring unrestricted family members over can take years.

“There didn’t seem to be a solution on Monday to some of the objections that were being brought up,” Gardner said without going into detail. “But by (Tuesday) some different ideas were proposed, and those same people seemed to like the direction on both sides of the aisle.”

Any solution that passes out of the Senate must also pass the House.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he will not bring an immigration bill to the House floor without the full support of the president and half the Republican caucus, which will require strong border security measures to satisfy immigration hard-liners.

To get House members on board, Gardner has been talking to key committee chairmen, as well as the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a moderate group of 20 Democratic and 20 Republican representatives.

“My No. 1 priority is getting this solved in a way that we don’t come back in a year or two to fix what we couldn’t fix now,” Gardner said.

Reports have surfaced that a temporary one-year DACA fix, similar to a continuing resolution, has been floated on Capitol Hill, but Gardner didn’t want to speculate that a stopgap measure on the issue was under serious consideration.

“I want to find a long-term solution,” Gardner said. “To be clear though, I don’t want these kids – who were brought here through no fault of their own – to be threatened or to feel they have no protection under the law.”

Andrew Eversden is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.

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