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Fate unclear for Perdue's immigration bill after Trump's DACA move

WASHINGTON – Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue thinks President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind an Obama-era program for young illegal immigrants opens the door for his own proposal remaking the country’s legal immigration system. But Perdue faces stiff opposition as he looks to jump-start support for his bill given how entrenched the issue of immigration is on Capitol Hill.

When Trump announced earlier this week that he was terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, he gave Congress six months to act. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also indicated the White House would want something from the Democrats in exchange for protecting the undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers, through legislation.

Cue Perdue. The first-term Georgia Republican was quick to argue that his proposal, which would tamp down on the number of visas the country grants each year and refocus the system on skilled migrants, perfectly fit the bill.

“It’s funny what happens when the President of the United States says we need to go in a certain direction,” he said Wednesday.

His legislation has received little traction among Senate leaders after it was first rolled out in February and revamped in August with the president’s seal of approval. But Perdue on Wednesday said momentum was beginning to pick up after Trump’s DACA announcement.

Read more:  What’s in Perdue’s legal immigration overhaul?

Indeed, a group of conservative Republicans introduced a companion bill in the House on Thursday. On hand were Georgia lawmakers Buddy Carter and Jody Hice.

“I think the time has come that we bring our immigration policy up to the 21st century and have people come into the United States who are the best of the best as well as have a robust guest worker program,” Hice said.

House and Senate Republican leaders have not divulged exactly what they would like to do with DACA but indicated they would follow Trump’s lead.

But some GOP senators, especially those who backed the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill in 2013, indicated the RAISE Act wouldn’t fly in the chamber since leaders would need to forge a compromise with Democrats to get enough votes.

“I think that’s too big a lift. I don’t think the Democrats would go anywhere near it,” said Arizona Republican Jeff Flake. “To cut legal immigration in half -- that’s a massive change to our legal immigration structure.”

Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat and a big DACA proponent, said he would not support Perdue’s bill if leaders tried to attach it to the Dream Act.

“When you pick off that piece (legal immigration) and just say we’re going to cut legal immigration in half it’s going to cause some real hardship,” he said.

Some media outlets have reported that lawmakers are much more likely to settle on a deal that exchanges beefed up border security and enforcement in exchange for passage of the Dream Act, with Perdue’s immigration bill and money for a border wall effectively non-starters.

Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a supporter of the 2013, said that’s where he sees the biggest avenue for a deal.

“Most Democrats are for border security. A lot of Republicans are for helping the dreamers, so there’s a bill to be done,” he said.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.