Dreamers face long odds with GOP Congress

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President Trump is calling for congressional action on immigration reform, but early indications suggest his Republican allies, particularly in the Senate, have little inclination to take up the thorny issue.

Trump kicked the issue to Congress on Tuesday by announcing the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which since action by President Obama in 2012 has provided work permits to immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

“Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!” the president tweeted, hours before Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally announced the decision to roll back the program over the next six months. The president notably did not mention the other issues facing Congress this month, including hard deadlines to fund the government and raise the federal borrowing limit.

{mosads}Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Tuesday that there’s “no way” Congress will consider the immigration program this month.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered a short statement that, while backing Trump’s decision, failed to mention DACA and betrayed little interest in doing anything on immigration.

“This Congress will continue working on securing our border and ensuring a lawful system of immigration that works,” McConnell said.

No single issue has divided Republicans as much as immigration reform, and expecting this Congress to take action on immigration after it failed in July to fulfill the GOP’s years-long goal of repealing ObamaCare would seem like wishful thinking on the part of the president.

For all their attacks on Obama’s immigration agenda, GOP leaders have largely steered clear of the topic for fear of exposing internal rifts.

Turning to a tough immigration fight this year would distract GOP leaders from other priorities, notably a tax-reform package that’s long been at the top of Speaker Paul Ryan’s wish list.

The issue is so delicate that Ryan (R-Wis.), in accepting the gavel in 2015, had first to assure conservatives that he would consider no immigration bills that lacked the backing of a majority of Republicans.

Any action on DACA would surely test that vow, as Republicans are sharply split between a conservative camp that’s cheering Trump’s move to rescind the program and a moderate wing that wants to protect the high-achieving young immigrants enrolled in it.

Ryan offered support for both Trump and DACA recipients on Tuesday, saying he hoped that “the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.”

In 2010, the Democrats pushed through a version of the DREAM Act that would have benefited a similar population to that enrolled in DACA. The legislation was backed by only eight Republicans, six of whom are no longer in Congress.

It seems possible that more Republicans would back the measure today. But past votes suggest it wouldn’t be that many.

Most GOP lawmakers have voted in recent years to undermine the protections offered by DACA. All but 26 GOP House Republicans supported a Department of Homeland Security spending bill in January 2015 to end the program. And in August 2014, only 11 Republicans defected in a similar vote.

The majority of House Republicans who have voted in support of protecting young undocumented immigrants hail from competitive districts, often with large Hispanic populations. There were few signs on Tuesday that many Republicans beyond the usual suspects were eager to extend deferred deportations for DACA recipients.

Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), a top Democratic target in 2018, announced that he will cosponsor legislation authored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) that would establish a path for young undocumented immigrants to gain legal status.

Still, without Lance the bill currently only has 18 Republican cosponsors.

Most other Republicans, meanwhile, praised Trump for ending DACA.

Some Democrats are hoping to make DACA an issue in the month’s fiscal fights. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) is vowing to oppose any government funding bill that lacks language protecting DACA recipients — and to rally other Democrats behind him.  

“If they need our votes, we are bringing 800,000 young immigrants with us,” Gutiérrez said.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, said Tuesday that it’s too early to say whether Democratic leaders will use the leverage they’re sure to have in the month’s spending fights to push for immigration provisions.

Conservatives on and off of Capitol Hill are advocating a quick end to the DACA program — and warning GOP leaders not to consider any new protections, which the critics deem “amnesty” for lawbreakers.

“Former #DACA’s will make great ‘Peace Corp’ volunteers in home countries. None would take more hardship or risk than we ask of Peace Corp,” tweeted Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), misspelling the Peace Corps.  

Over the weekend, King had warned that delaying the end of DACA “so R Leadership can push Amnesty is Republican suicide.”

Trump’s support for a DACA fix would give Republicans some cover in conservative districts where the president remains highly popular. But it hardly guarantees success, as Republicans are still licking their wounds from a failure to repeal ObamaCare.

Former President George W. Bush had also championed legal protections for undocumented immigrants — an effort derailed by lawmakers in his own party. And Trump is already facing fire from conservatives for recently announcing that he won’t insist on border wall funding as part of this month’s government spending fight.

“Trump’s not going to get out of betraying voters on the wall by blaming congress,” conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted Tuesday.

And Trump lost his last remnants of big-name Hispanic support over the decision to end DACA.

Javier Palomarez, the CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Congress, resigned from Trump’s Diversity Coalition Tuesday, after resisting pressure to leave for months.

Palomarez said Trump’s decision made it impossible for him to collaborate with the White House, adding he would turn his attention to Republicans in Congress to find a permanent solution for young undocumented immigrants.

“You enlist powerhouses like [Sens.] John McCain [R-Ariz.] and Orrin Hatch [R-Utah] and Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.],” said Palomarez

“Having them on our side and on the right side is incredibly important. I’m hopeful they, through their influence, their expertise and their reach can get us where we need to be.”

Tags DACA deferred action for childhood arrivals Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Jeff Sessions John Cornyn John McCain Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Orrin Hatch Paul Ryan
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