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FILE PHOTO - Protesters calling for an immigration bill addressing the so-called Dreamers, young adults who were brought to the United States as children, carry a sign supporting DACA in the office of Senator Chuck Grassley on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts(reuters_tickers)
By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's administration stuck to its hardline immigration approach on Thursday and suggested it would not support a bipartisan U.S. Senate proposal to protect young "Dreamer" immigrants and tighten border security.
The Department of Homeland Security dismissed the plan, which would protect from deportation 1.8 million young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children, saying it did not meet Trump's minimum criteria for immigration legislation.
The proposal, considered perhaps the most likely to succeed in the Senate, also includes a $25 billion fund to strengthen border security and possibly even construct segments of Trump's long-promised border wall with Mexico.
The Senate is considering at least four immigration measures as lawmakers race to resolve the status of Dreamers, who were protected under an Obama-era programme. Trump has ordered that programme to end by March 5, telling Congress it should come up with an alternative plan by then.
The Department of Homeland Security said the bipartisan plan led by Senator Susan Collins would prevent DHS officers from being able to remove millions of undocumented immigrants from the country, and "is an egregious violation of the four compromise pillars laid out by the President’s immigration reform framework."
Trump has said any immigration bill must include funds to build the border wall, end the visa lottery programme, impose curbs on visas for the families of legal immigrants and protect Dreamers.
The Republican president has backed a measure by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley that embraces his wish list but is unlikely to win support from enough Democrats in the closely-divided chamber.
A narrower third bill focusing just on Dreamers and border security, by Republican John McCain and Democrat Chris Coons, has been dismissed by Trump. A fourth measure, which is not expected to pass, focuses on punishing "sanctuary cities" that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said votes on the four measures would be held possibly on Thursday or at least Friday morning, ahead of a self-imposed Senate deadline of the end of the week.
The bipartisan Collins bill got a slight boost when an influential group that advocates for immigrants, America's Voice, gave its reluctant support to the measure.
The group opposes provisions allowing the construction of a border wall and moves to limit legal immigration, but said in a statement, "We believe the chance to provide a permanent solution for Dreamers calls us to swallow these bitter pills."
Despite backing from several Republicans for the Collins-led plan, it was unclear if enough Democrats would get behind it to muster the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate, controlled 51-49 by Republicans.
Trump is keen to start on the border wall, which he made a central part of his 2016 election campaign and which Democrats have long opposed. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the wall would be "an enormous waste of money," but both parties had to bend.
"We have to rise above our differences, admit that no one will get everything they want and accept painful compromises," Schumer said.
In September, Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme to protect Dreamers from deportation and offer them work permits. Although the protections are due to start expiring on March 5, federal judges have blocked that from taking effect amid ongoing litigation.
Even if one of the Senate measures passes, it must still win over the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a larger majority and are pushing a more conservative proposal that is closer in line with Trump's framework.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he will support only legislation backed by Trump, who has carried his tough stance on immigration from the campaign into his administration.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Frances Kerry)