Politics & Government

Senate Democrats’ immigration plan, courtesy of Texas Republican Will Hurd

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, participates in a news conference on bipartisan legislation to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and border security.
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, participates in a news conference on bipartisan legislation to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and border security. AP

Senate Democrats are rallying around an immigration plan crafted by one of the House’s leading border experts, San Antonio Rep. Will Hurd — who happens to be a Republican.

He's also one of the Texas Democrats' top targets in 2018.

The two-term congressman represents more than 800 miles of Texas’s roughly 1,200 miles border with Mexico. He’s made his ability to work with Democrats and his expertise on the border key elements of his re-election pitch in a congressional district that Democrat Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

Hurd’s plan, pitched in the Senate by John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del., offers a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients in exchange for increased border security that uses barriers in some places and technology in others.

It also increases the number of immigration judges to solve backlosg in immigration courts and seeks to improve conditions in Central America to stop children from seeking refuge across the border.

Democratic Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday that he wants the Senate to vote on Hurd’s plan. Schumer also said the Senate should vote on President Donald Trump’s proposal, which calls for changes to the legal immigration system that Democrats oppose.

“Let’s start off with a vote on the president’s proposal to address DACA, as well as the bipartisan Coons-McCain proposal,” Schumer urged. “Our [legislation] is ready to go.”

Trump plans to end the DACA program March 5, and asked Congress to come up with a solution for its roughly 700,000 recipients before then. The Senate has been scrambling to meet that deadline and plans to begin voting on proposals as soon as Wednesday.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,who runs the Senate floor, said Tuesday that if the Senate doesn’t reach an immigration deal this week it will move on to other priorities.

Hurd, familiar with competitive races, has worked tirelessly to show he can find solutions with Democrats, including his DACA plan.

“I have more border than any other member of Congress,” Hurd said at a press conference unveiling the legislation last month. “We should be able to know what’s coming back and forth across our border. The only way we’re going to do that is by more technology and a thoughtful approach and that’s what [this bill] does.”

The bill has 50 co-sponsors from both parties, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“Americans are tired of partisan gridlock,” said Hurd. “[This] proves that [Republican and Democrats] are willing to work together to unite and secure America.”

GOP leaders in the House disagreed. They quickly pushed Hurd’s plan aside, instead gauging support for a plan crafted by conservatives.

The Hurd proposal made a resurgence in the Senate this month, when Coons and McCain teamed up to offer it as a Republican-Democrat solution. Trump immediately dismissed the idea with a Tweet, saying any DACA proposal without a wall was a “total waste of time.”

Now Senate Democrats are holding it up as their own plan to deal with DACA, and using Hurd’s expertise on the border as part of their pitch.

“Where did the McCain-Coons bill come from? It came from a bipartisan bill in the House that Congressman Will Hurd of El Paso, Texas, who has the longest stretch of Texas-Mexico border in any congressional district, crafted with [Rep.] Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.,” Coons said at press gathering for Democrats’ Senate leaders Tuesday.

Hurd resides in Helotes, Texas. His massive West Texas district stretches from San Antonio to El Paso.

He won a narrow reelection victory in 2016, in a district that’s nearly 70 percent Latino. His seat is considered Democrats’ top pick-up opportunity in Texas, where they’re targeting him and four other GOP-held seats this year. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats this year to win control of the House.

National Democrats plan to make Hurd’s votes for Trump’s border wall a key piece of their campaign. Over the weekend their favored candidate, Jay Hulings, got campaign help from one of Hurd’s Latino House colleagues, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.

Emma Dumain and Lesley Clark of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch