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Congress struggles to come up with a fix for 'Dreamers'

It has been four weeks since President Trump gave Congress a six-month deadline to figure out a solution for immigrants in the U.S. illegally who had been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. An estimated one-fourth of the program’s 800,000 recipients live in California.

A hearing Tuesday illustrated just how far lawmakers are from a deal, with members of the president’s own party asking for guidance on a fix.

The highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, urged colleagues to pass a piecemeal fix that focuses on so-called Dreamers before DACA officially ends. Trump has said lawmakers have until March 5 to get something done before DACA beneficiaries start losing deportation protections and the ability to work legally in the country.

“Every day that we fail to act means one more day that hundreds of thousands of Dreamers... are forced to live with this cloud hanging over them,” Feinstein said.

A California medical school student implored senators Tuesday to provide a pathway for citizenship for people like her who came to the country illegally as children.

“DACA has allowed us to lead almost normal lives and give back to our communities,” said Denisse Rojas Marquez, 28, of Fremont. “The fate of 800,000 individuals rests in your hands and we desperately need your help.”

Beside her at the witness table was a man whose mother-in-law was raped and killed by a young immigrant. He said any path to a legal status for Dreamers, as the group is often called, is a slippery slope to amnesty.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) read aloud some Trump tweets about DACA and a border wall, and suggested what the president wants “reads like a laundry list of comprehensive immigration reform.” Such a plan, which Democrats and some Republicans favor, has been tried repeatedly over the last decade but has never gotten far.

"We really do need White House leadership," Tillis said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Judiciary Committee chairman, said a legislative fix should include many aspects of a broad immigration bill such as making it easier to deport criminals and gang members, requiring employers to check the immigration status of people they hire, and addressing immigration court backlogs.

“It would be a dereliction of our duty if we fail to take steps to end at least some of the illegal immigration as we know it, and kick the can down the road so that a future Congress has to address this very same problem again in another 15 years,” he said. “I’m confident that if everyone is reasonable, we can find a solution.”

Lawmakers pressed the witnesses from the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice about what sort of plan Trump would back. They either said they couldn’t answer or listed items the president might want such as more border security or requiring employers to check the legal status of everyone they hire.

“We are not in a position, by design, of advocating for any particular legislative solution,” Michael Dougherty, an assistant secretary at Homeland Security.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) left a meeting with Trump last month saying they had reached an agreement with the president for a legislative fix that would provide legal status to Dreamers along with some money for immigration enforcement and border security.

But after a Republican dinner with Trump on Monday night, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told Politico that the president wants a plan that would provide legal status only to those in the country illegally who already signed up for DACA​​​​​. Nearly 80% of the 1.1 million people thought to be eligible for DACA applied, meaning the others would not qualify. Democrats have made clear they oppose such a narrow plan.

Cotton said the president also wants to end an immigration policy that supports family reunification, and increase enforcement at the border and better monitor immigrants in the country who overstay their visa.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) told the Washington Post that Trump agreed that a tax deal should go through Congress before immigration is addressed.

sarah.wire@latimes.com

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics

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