Future of DACA up in the air as deadline looms
Two months after Democratic leaders struck a deal with President Trump to permanently protect beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, recipients’ futures are still very much up in the air.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) touted their White House deal in September, which they said included border security — but not a wall — and permanently enshrined the protections of DACA into law.
Since then, almost everyone in Washington has weighed in.
The White House released a set of immigration principles that crossed every red line set by Democrats on the issue; Democrats have toyed with — and directly threatened — the idea of shutting down the government unless the issue is resolved; and immigration has proven again to be a deeply divisive issue in the Republican conference.
A group of House Republicans led by Rep. Dan Newhouse (Wash.) Thursday called on Congress to act before the end of the year to give relief to DACA recipients, and possibly all undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
“There are people at risk right now. Over 20,000 DACA individuals that are at risk today, so I think it’s important that we address this prior to the end of the year and not wait for March 5,” Newhouse said.
Trump canceled the program in September, giving Congress six months to act before its official end date, March 5, when existing DACA permits will begin to expire without the possibility of renewal.
Democrats, like Newhouse and his group of nearly 20 Republicans, say DACA relief must pass before year’s end.
That throws DACA relief in the mix with must-pass end-of-year government spending legislation and Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) top priority, tax reform.
But Ryan has pushed back against attempts to tie DACA to other legislative priorities, saying Thursday it should be “considered separately” from end-of-year deadlines.
“I don’t think there is really any need to have artificial deadlines within the one we already have,” he said. “Having said that, though, our members are having lots of conversations. We have a working group on this issue and that working group is now going to spread out and start talking to our broader conference.”
Ryan’s all-Republican working group on DACA has been airtight on its deliberations, and activists have privately expressed concern over its composition, as it includes moderates like Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.) and Will Hurd (Texas), but also immigration hard-liners like House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (Va.).
Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the powerful, conservative Freedom Caucus, gave reporters Thursday a preview of what the working group deal could include.
According to Brat, conservative Republicans would consider voting in favor of DACA relief as part of a deal that included efforts to discourage chain migration, expansion of the E-Verify system to become mandatory and the elimination of the diversity visa program.
“I’m open to that compromise, but it can’t be any weaker than that,” said Brat.
Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing a bipartisan bill, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) Act, as the best legislative vehicle to solve the issue.
Under the Dream Act, nearly two million undocumented immigrants who arrived as children — known colloquially as “Dreamers” — would receive permanent residency with a path to citizenship. That group would include current DACA beneficiaries and others with similar backgrounds.
While Democrats are pushing for a “clean” DREAM Act, Brat’s presumptive compromise wouldn’t cross any of the red lines set by Congressional Hispanic Caucus and party leadership on a DACA deal.
Since Trump’s cancellation of DACA kicked the DREAM Act debate into overdrive, Democrats have vowed to block any deal that includes border wall funding, increased interior enforcement or more immigrant detention centers.
While a compromise deal seems within reach, questions over timing and the appropriate legislative vehicle for relief are up in the air.
Newhouse’s group of Republicans say they’ll support any measure that can get enough Republican support to get a House floor vote, but warn that a clean DREAM Act is unlikely to meet that standard.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) blamed extremist positions on either side of the debate for legislative inaction on DACA specifically and immigration in general.
“Are you willing to get off of the enforcement first and are you willing to get off of the all or nothing? Because both are signs of people who are not willing to stand with us here today and make a difference in these young people’s lives,” he said.
Still, Democrats have pledged to use their leverage in the spending bill — Ryan will almost certainly need Democratic votes to pass it — to get a DACA compromise that’s acceptable to them.
Democratic leaders have shied away from making an explicit threat to vote against any spending bill if a clean DREAM Act isn’t passed by the end of the year, but 25 House Democrats openly made that threat.
The Democratic threat and the Newhouse group’s sense of urgency have put added pressure on Ryan, who indicated he wants to table the debate until 2018.
Newhouse played down any concerns about mixing must-pass legislation and a DACA fix.
“There’s a lot of interesting things that can happen at the last minute and if in order to be successful in this issue that’s an option that would be open to us, I think a lot of people would probably be open to it,” he said.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) told The Hill the debate is “an interesting test” for Ryan.
“How long can you keep [Republicans] off the DREAM Act if you’re not giving them any indication that you’re going to solve this problem?” she said.
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