DACA deadline looms with no deal in sight
Republican immigration leaders on Friday huddled once more in search of an elusive deal to protect “Dreamers,” but several negotiators suggested the sides are no closer to an agreement following the two-hour session.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, said border security has emerged as the latest sticking point in the talks. And Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a centrist immigration reformer, accused the conservatives of increasing their demands at the eleventh hour.
“I’m disappointed that more issues continue to get added when we’re trying to close out,” Denham said.
The California Republican suggested the sides are too far apart to reach a deal by the June 12 deadline a number of the centrists are eyeing.
“It’s a lot of work [left]. I’m willing to stay here all weekend to work on it,” Denham said. “But it’s Friday afternoon, and time continues to go by.”
Failure to reach a Dreamer compromise that can win the support of 218 Republicans by next Tuesday could spur a handful of moderate GOP lawmakers to endorse a procedural gambit — known as a discharge petition — to force a series of votes on competing bills to salvage the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President Trump is trying to dismantle.
Republican supporters of the discharge petition — led by Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Denham — have gathered 215 signatures thus far, meaning they need just three more to bypass party leaders and force DACA votes.
Denham, who had been optimistic on Thursday that a deal was nearing completion, appeared far more pessimistic as he emerged from a Friday meeting in the office of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Denham said he’ll be “strongly encouraging members on Tuesday to sign” the discharge petition if a deal isn’t finalized before then. And he’s set a high bar in stipulating that his definition of “deal” means legislative text — “in writing.”
Other negotiators warned that, because the House recessed on Friday and won’t be returning to Washington until Tuesday, Denham’s standard will be virtually impossible to meet.
“I think we’re going to be able to talk about … an agreement in principle — or not,” said Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a former immigration attorney and member of the Freedom Caucus who’s been central to the talks.
“Having text by Tuesday is probably not possible.”
The most formidable disagreement has hinged around the question of citizenship rights for the Dreamers, immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.
That hurdle remains, but Meadows on Friday said another one — more unexpected — has popped up surrounding border security and interior enforcement.
“That seems to be probably the second thorniest issue that we have,” Meadows said. “I originally thought that border security would actually be easier, and I think at the end of the day it will. But I think now that we’re getting down to the fine points of what border security means, it’s going to require some further debate.”
If Denham and the centrists win 218 signatures to launch their discharge petition by Tuesday, it could force votes on four separate DACA bills as early as June 25. All sides of the debate said the talks will continue up to that date, regardless what happens with the discharge petition, although winning the formal support of 218 lawmakers would provide the centrists a great deal more leverage with GOP leaders scrambling to keep the four DACA bills off the floor.
Curbelo, the lead sponsor of the discharge petition, gave the most optimistic update Friday on the state of the talks. Curbelo said it’s a “strong possibility” negotiators will need until June 25 to strike an agreement, but feels they’re getting closer.
“We got closer. I think we’re getting really close on the DACA solution. We’re pretty close to defining [the Dreamer population],” he said, adding he expects legislative text to be unveiled “probably next week.”
Curbelo floated the possibility that the centrists may be open to giving GOP leaders even more time to come up with a solution. He noted that, by the obscure rules governing the discharge petition, the House will have one more shot — on July 23 — to consider bills “discharged” by the petition on the floor.
“Members are aware that there is a June and a July option,” he said.
Whatever the case, Curbelo said the petition — by keeping the pressure on Republican leaders to act on DACA — is central to the centrists’ success.
“The discharge petition,” he said, “is fundamental to this process.”
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