A court ruling late Tuesday night stalling President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program appeared to be good news for the young immigrants known as Dreamers, who face deportation if the policy is terminated. But the decision is limited, and congressional negotiations to find a permanent solution for DACA are a mess.
San Francisco-based U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup granted a pretrial injunction that bars the administration from rescinding the program for the time being. Many groups representing DACA recipients have sued since September, when Trump canceled former President Barack Obama’s 2012 administrative program, which gives recipients renewable two-year protection against deportation, as well as work permit eligibility. Alsup ordered the administration to continue receiving requests for DACA renewals, but not to process new applications.
Some activists worry that the order, if it remains in place, could subvert the current legislative battle and cause Democrats to become complacent. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday said the ruling “in no way diminishes the urgency of resolving the DACA issue,” adding that the only way to guarantee peace of mind and legal status for Dreamers is to pass it into law by attaching it to the budget deal.
But Democrats have already backed away once from a promise to force a vote on DACA. In December, Democrats vowed not to leave town without a DACA fix, but ended up punting the immigration fight to avoid a government shutdown, breaking for the holidays with the futures of an estimated 800,000 young immigrants in limbo. This time, will Democrats be willing to shut down the government over DACA in an election year?
Will Democrats be willing to shut down the government over DACA in an election year?
The parties’ approaches appear to be irreconcilable, with Republicans insisting any DACA deal must also include border wall funding — Trump’s asked for $18 billion — which Democrats reject. Democrats are hoping to attach Dreamer protections to a spending bill to fund the government (Republicans can’t pass a spending bill themselves; it requires 60 votes and must pass by January 19 in order to avert a shutdown). Republican leadership, meanwhile, maintains that the DACA deal and the spending bill are on separate tracks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday that it is still his view that a DACA-related immigration bill “will not be a part of any overall spending agreement.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said that he and other lawmakers will come up with “a proposed timeline that will allow us to meet that March 5 deadline” — when DACA is due to end under Trump’s plan, unless Congress restores the protections.
Framing the fight in terms of meeting a deadline fails to capture the reality of nearly 1 million lives hanging in the balance as lawmakers go back and forth. An estimated 120 DACA recipients lose their status each day as their permissions expire, and when DACA ends, that number would jump to about 1,165 a day, according to an analysis by the Arizona Republic.
Congressional negotiations are still all over the map and, at times, incoherent. Even after a lengthy meeting between Trump and a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday, there’s no apparent consensus on which issues are on the table. Trump said he would sign legislation to extend DACA protections, urging Congress to pass a “bill of love,” but not without border wall funding and increased border security. Following the Tuesday meeting, some lawmakers said they agreed on parameters for the immigration deal, narrowing it down to four areas: border security, DACA protections, an end to “chain migration” — a term used to refer to immigration based on family ties — and the diversity visa lottery program. Still, Democrats argue that they are only agreeing to a clean DREAM Act, and the other topics are lumped into “comprehensive immigration reform.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., told reporters Tuesday that the DACA talks get “bigger and bigger” because Republicans “want to take more portions of immigration and immigration issues and bring them into this situation, when we know that all they have to do is fix a very narrow area.”
“We’re not going to allow them to use this as a hostage-taking situation to overhaul immigration policy that has been established in the past 40 years”— Rep. Ruben Gallego
“We can negotiate within that area, but we’re not going to allow them to use this as a hostage-taking situation to overhaul immigration policy that has been established in the past 40 years,” he added.
Dreamers aren’t the only group of immigrants losing protections. The Trump administration on Monday announced it will end the Temporary Protected Status, known as TPS, that has allowed over 262,000 Salvadorans to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation for years. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., on Monday called the decision “outrageous, cruel,” and “the most vicious thing I’ve ever heard.”
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said he didn’t even know the TPS program existed until recently, adding that Congress shouldn’t just address DACA but “ought to address the whole system.”
“I mean, every day I read your reports,” Kennedy told reporters on Tuesday. “There’s a new program that I didn’t know about. I didn’t know about this new program that allows Central Americans to come into the country. Look, if somebody is about to be harmed in their own country and they need safe harbor, we should help them. But they shouldn’t be able to just park and live here forever. The whole diversity visa lottery system makes absolutely no sense to me. And we keep learning about these programs that, at least, I didn’t know about. We clearly need to sit down and address the system and address the problem in a compassionate but firm way.”
TPS is also ending for immigrants from Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua, and the Trump administration will soon decide the future of TPS for five other countries: Syria, Nepal, Honduras, Yemen, and Somalia. But issues like TPS and the visa lottery system, Gallego said, are part of comprehensive immigration reform and should be dealt with after DACA. What is needed now, he said, is “the DREAM Act. Focused. Narrow.”
“Phase one is just fixing the DREAM Act and there may be some negotiations within that, but it’s not going to be some massive tradeoffs,” he said. “They took the hostage, we’re not going to pay for the hostage. We didn’t cause this situation.”