Hoyer: ‘No agreement’ on DACA

Hoyer: ‘No agreement’ on DACA
© Greg Nash

The second-ranking House Democrat said Wednesday that no deal has been reached with Republicans on legislation protecting qualified young immigrants from deportation.

Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia House leaders clash over resolution backing ICE Hoyer calls on GOP to bring up election security amendment MORE (D-Md.), the minority whip, pushed back against the notion that Democrats are close to endorsing a package that would couple legal benefits for the so-called Dreamers — immigrants brought to the country illegally as children — with a short list of tougher enforcement measures being pushed by Republicans.

“There was no agreement. There was only an articulation of four items,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol.

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Hoyer was among a bipartisan group of more than 20 lawmakers from both chambers who huddled Tuesday with President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL freezes policy barring players from protesting during anthem McConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Petition urges University of Virginia not to hire Marc Short MORE at the White House in an effort to move the sides closer to a deal to protect those eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era initiative Trump is ending on March 5.

Behind House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse leaders clash over resolution backing ICE House backs resolution expressing support for ICE House GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE MORE (R-Calif.), the Republicans used Tuesday’s gathering to push an agenda that combines a DACA resolution with three enhanced enforcement efforts, one bolstering security at the U.S.-Mexico border, another limiting family migration policy and a third cutting back on diversity visas, which lend preference to countries with low immigration numbers.

Senate Democrats returned from the meeting suggesting there was bipartisan agreement surrounding those parameters. But House Democrats, facing plenty of pressure from both outside activists and members of their own caucus — particularly those in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — seem to be more skeptical.

“Those four were on his list,” Hoyer said, referring to McCarthy’s itinerary. “But there was no agreement with any of those.”

Hoyer was especially critical of the Republicans’ insistence that a DACA package include efforts to scale back the rights of those living in the U.S. to bring foreign family members into the country — a system often called “chain migration.” Hoyer characterized the GOP’s phrasing as “politically tainted” and “pejorative.”

“What we are talking about is family reunification,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer cited his former role as the chairman of the so-called Helsinki Commission, a group established amid the Cold War to promote human rights, particularly in the Soviet Bloc, as a reason for maintaining a system that empowers U.S. residents to bring family members into the country.

“That it still a value that I think we need to hold dear,” he said.

Hoyer also pushed back against funding for new construction of a southern border wall — a central promise of Trump’s campaign — though he stopped short of saying it would be a deal-killer for the Democrats seeking a DACA agreement.

“We don’t think that the wall is effective, but we think border security is critical,” Hoyer said.

“We’ll have to see what the discussion is, but we’re not opposed to the discussion,” he added. “We want to make the border secure.”

Hoyer noted that Trump — despite campaign vows to build “a big beautiful wall” — has also walked back the idea that he’ll insist on an unbroken physical barrier spanning the border.

“The president made it very clear that he wasn’t talking about a wall along the entire border, so he had some flexibility as well on that,” he said.

The debate arrives as GOP leaders are scrambling to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, which runs through September. Congress in recent months has passed three short-term spending bills to keep the government open, and lawmakers will almost certainly need another continuing resolution before Jan. 19 to prevent a shutdown.

Democrats are facing plenty of pressure — internal and external — to insist on a DACA resolution as part of the next spending vehicle. Republican leaders, however, have rejected the idea of putting DACA language on a spending bill, urging a stand-alone package. Hoyer on Wednesday declined to play his hand.

“The key is not what bill it’s in, the key is that it gets done,” he said. “We would hope that it would get done prior to the passage of any of the fiscal bills, so that we would have the assurance that it was done.”

Hoyer said he’s not aware of any new bipartisan meetings on DACA, but he indicated that he’d be talking on Wednesday with both McCarthy and Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials Deal to fix family separations hits snag in the Senate Senate Democrats block resolution supporting ICE MORE (Ill.), a leading Democrat in the Senate negotiations.

Perhaps complicating the debate, a federal judge in California ruled late Tuesday that Trump’s move to dismantle DACA was improper. The decision allows past DACA participants to re-enroll in the program, though the administration is under no obligation to accept new applicants. Immigration activists estimate that almost 15,000 people have lost DACA protection since Trump announced the program’s end in September.

The White House quickly pushed back, calling the ruling “outrageous.” And Hoyer emphasized that the decision is temporary, saying it’s no reason for Congress to delay a more permanent DACA fix.

“I would expect them to try to appeal it relatively soon,” he said.