- Trump has offered a path to citizenship for Dreamers, but only in exchange for tough cutbacks on overall immigration and funding for a massive wall on the Mexican border.
The citizenship hopes of 1.8 million immigrants brought to the United States as children hung in the balance Monday as Congress launched debate on the hot-button issue, with President Donald Trump eager to "make a deal" on new legislation.
In offering a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, Trump has exceeded the demands of opposition Democrats -- but only in exchange for tough cutbacks on overall immigration and funding for a massive wall on the Mexican border.
Trump's proposal was front and centre as senators began an unpredictable course that could yield a long-sought breakthrough on immigration or end in failure – with hundreds of thousands of immigrants at risk of losing their legal protections early next month.
"I hope to be able to make a deal," Trump said, adding that the Republican Party would "love" to reach an agreement.
"If the Democrats want to make a deal, it's really up to them."
On Monday, the Senate easily voted to advance toward a full and open floor debate on immigration, one that could take weeks.
Trump himself is expected to play an influential – but perhaps destabilising – role in the process. His U-turns on some aspects of the sensitive issue have unsettled Democrats and some Republicans.
Meanwhile, a group of conservative senators introduced legislation that closely follows the proposals Trump made in January, and it got an endorsement from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Secure and Succeed Act offers a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship for Dreamers.
But it also ends the popular diversity lottery system and sharply limits family-based immigration.
It also allocates $25 billion for tighter border security, including construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border that Trump promised during his 2016 election campaign.
"This is the only bill that has a chance of becoming law, and that's because it's the only bill that will truly solve the underlying problem," said Senator Tom Cotton, a lead sponsor of the legislation.
Cotton also suggested Trump was done negotiating. "The president's framework is not an opening bid in negotiations. It is a best and final offer," he told reporters.
The Senate's turn to immigration began as the White House unveiled Trump's 2019 budget framework, which asks for increases in funding to secure "porous borders," including for additional agents, detention centres and high-tech equipment such as drones.