The Senate’s immigration debate, starting next week, is really at least 7 different debates

(Feb. 8, 2018) Mitch McConnell has just turned the immigration debate in the Senate, already mysterious and complicated, into something everyone in Washington is struggling to wrap their heads around.

He’s giving the Senate a week of floor debate to address any immigration issue that members wish: addressing the fate of the 690,000 unauthorized immigrants facing the loss of their protections from deportation and work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as the fate of the other “DREAMers” who came to the US as children and didn’t or couldn’t apply for DACA; Trump’s border “wall”; policy toward asylum seekers and unaccompanied children at the border; the future of legal immigration to the US; and anything else that senators think is particularly important.

Instead of focusing the debate by introducing a bill and using amendments to push it to the right or left, McConnell is starting the debate with nothing. One of two things will happen from there: Either he’ll have each side introduce amendments to build an immigration bill from scratch or he’ll reveal an amendment of his own that represents a compromise as Mitch McConnell defines it.

That raises the question of what represents a compromise on immigration to Mitch McConnell. He’s not tipping his hand in the slightest. And in the meantime, he’s essentially saying, “Immigration: talk amongst yourselves.”

McConnell is starting the debate a week before the Senate’s February recess — meaning that he’s either asking senators to solve America’s most contentious policy issue in five days or telling them to pause in the middle of a floor debate, spend a week being yelled at by constituents, and come back to take some very difficult votes.

The Senate can’t agree on a starting point, so McConnell is opening the debate up even wider

Because immigration is such a broad and complicated issue, and it’s not clear what McConnell’s priorities are in narrowing it, it’s hard to predict what amendments will be offered. But various divides have already erupted among senators — and it’s not clear whether, in any of these debates, one side or the other has the 60 votes necessary to pass.

Click here to read more about what is being considered:

Dara Lind