The hopes for citizenship of 1.8 million illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children hung in the balance Monday as Congress started up debate on sweeping new immigration legislation.

President Donald Trump has offered more than Democrats asked on citizenship for the so-called Dreamers, but only in exchange for tough cutbacks on overall immigration and funding for a massive wall on the Mexican border.

A group of conservative senators were to introduce a bill on Monday that closely follows Trump's January proposals.

The Secure and Succeed Act offers a 10-12 year path to citizenship for the 1.8 million Dreamers.

But it will also end the popular "Green Card lottery", a 28-year-old programme to diversify immigrant arrivals, and sharply limit family-based immigration.

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In addition, it will allocate $25bn for tougher immigration enforcement including the 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 bill.

"This bill is generous, humane, and responsible, and now we should send it to the president's desk," Cotton said in a statement.

A clock is ticking: nearly 700 000 of the Dreamers, those registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, could begin losing protections from expulsion early next month.

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