By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate rejected a series of bills to protect "Dreamer" immigrants on Thursday, leaving in limbo the future of 1.8 million young adults brought to the United States illegally as children.
The Senate failed to get the 60 votes needed to move forward on four separate proposals, including one backed by President Donald Trump and a bipartisan bill that had been considered the most likely to survive the deeply divided Senate.
But Trump slammed the bipartisan measure as "a total catastrophe" and backed a Republican plan that garnered only 39 votes, the fewest of all four plans. That led Democrats to complain the president's uncompromising approach was sinking bipartisan efforts in Congress.
"This vote is proof that President Trump’s plan will never become law. If he would stop torpedoing bipartisan efforts, a good bill would pass,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.
The Senate votes were the latest in a series of failures in Congress in recent years to pass a comprehensive immigration plan, and they left lawmakers and immigration advocates searching for a way forward for the young Dreamer immigrants.
Although the protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are due to start expiring on March 5, federal judges have blocked that from taking effect amid ongoing litigation.
Republican Senator Bob Corker told reporters there could now be debate on attaching a short-term extension of protections for Dreamers on a government funding bill that Congress must pass by March 23 to avoid a shutdown.
"This does not have to be the end of our efforts to resolve these matters," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the vote. "I would encourage members to put away the talking points to get serious about finding a solution that can actually become law."
Trump had insisted that any immigration bill to protect Dreamers should also include funds to build a border wall with Mexico, end the visa lottery program and impose curbs on visas for the families of legal immigrants.
The White House pushed Trump's preferred bill, introduced by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, but 14 Senate Republicans voted against Trump’s plan. That included Senators John Thune and John Barrasso, members of the Senate Republican leadership, and conservatives such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
The leading bipartisan measure, crafted by a group led by Republican Senator Susan Collins, would have protected the Dreamers and also included a $25 billion fund to strengthen border security and possibly even build segments of Trump's long-promised border wall with Mexico.
But the White House threatened a veto, saying it would weaken enforcement of current law and produce a flood of illegal immigration. The Department of Homeland Security and Attorney General Jeff Sessions also blasted it. The measure fell short on a 54-45 vote.
A narrow bill focusing just on Dreamers and border security, by Republican John McCain and Democrat Chris Coons, failed on a 52-47 vote. A fourth measure, focused on punishing "sanctuary cities" that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts, also fell short of 60 votes.
"It looks like demagogues on the left and the right win again on immigration," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who backed all four proposals, said in a statement.
McConnell had set a deadline for the Senate to pass an immigration measure by the end of this week.
Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, noted an overwhelming majority of Americans support protections for Dreamers.
"It is noteworthy that the only vote to reach a supermajority of 60 votes was the resounding defeat of Trump’s racist and radical immigration plan," he said.
Senator Mike Rounds, a leading Republican sponsor of the failed bipartisan proposal, said senators would keep trying.
"We’ll have a chance to regroup, and take a look at what we can do to take a bipartisan approach, modify some of those things where there are questions," he said.
"The issues are not going to go away. We’ve still got DACA kids that are going to have to be addressed. We’ve still got a border security system that the president says is a priority. We want to give him an opportunity to make that a success," he said.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Katanga Johnson and Makini Brice; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Frances Kerry and Cynthia Osterman)