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White House: No DACA Deal

FILE - Demonstrators urging the Democratic Party to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) rally outside the office of California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in Los Angeles, Jan. 3, 2018.
FILE - Demonstrators urging the Democratic Party to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) rally outside the office of California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in Los Angeles, Jan. 3, 2018.

The White House says no deal has been made addressing the plight of 800,000 undocumented young people brought to the United States as children.

"We still think we can get there," spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during the White House press briefing Thursday. She declined to put a timeline on a possible deal.

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) had said earlier that a group of six senators had reached an immigration deal and was waiting for a White House review.

Sanders said the group's proposal was a great start, adding, "We've outlined what a deal would need to look like on our end."

President Donald Trump told congressional leaders Tuesday the bill permanently settling the status of the so-called DREAMers should be “a bill of love” but he has not publicly provided clarity on what a deal would look like.

Capitol Hill’s permanent legislative solution for DACA will likely come in one of three forms: as part of a broader immigration reform package; as an attachment to the spending deal funding the U.S. government past a January 19 deadline or as stand alone legislation – referred to as a “clean” DREAM Act.

With deep party divisions over immigration reform and only four working days left until funding runs out, the twists and turns on the path to passing that bill are anything but simple. Here are the major players and where they stand:

In a meeting with lawmakers Tuesday, Trump issued a four-item wish list: DACA, a border wall, replacing family-based immigration with a merit-based one and eliminating the diversity visa.

Since last September when Trump ended DACA, congressional Republicans have maintained that the program should be part of a broader immigration bill, opening the door to a wide range of issues.

“This has to be balanced so we don't have a DACA problem five, 10 years down the road," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Tuesday.

Border security maybe, but no wall

Trump has specified DACA legislation has to include measures to "secure the border.” The unresolved question here is whether this includes a continuous physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that was one of the president’s centerpiece campaign promises or a package of border security measures.

Congressional Democrats facing re-election in the 2018 mid-terms will never agree to fund a physical border wall. They hold the cards in this debate; without their votes for a budget deal, the U.S government will shut down after January 19.

“The president agreed we ought to do it in two phases because we have an emergency,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Wednesday of the March 5 deadline for DACA expiration. “We need to make sure they’re protected and included and welcomed now.”

Republican Representatives Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both from Florida, have also promised to vote against any spending bill that does not include a DACA fix. Curbelo sponsored the Recognizing America’s Children Act, one of several bills in Congress that if passed would provide a permanent legislative solution for DREAMers.

Democrats’ calculations on the budget deal could change if the border enforcement piece included repair of existing sections of border fencing and more technology for surveillance. Border Congressman Will Hurd’s (R-TX) proposal for a SMART “wall” using drone and biometric technology to police the border could provide a blueprint for that approach.

“We’re willing to give a little when it comes to border security but we’re not willing to give away the whole hog,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ).

Democrats from the more progressive wing of their party will be reluctant to give too much on border enforcement in return for a DACA fix.

Immigration system

For Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), a longtime supporter of DREAMers, President Trump’s desire to undo family-based immigration is ironic..

“He couldn’t even go to the White House without bringing his daughter and his son-in-law with him – well, guess what – that’s the way businesses work and that’s how families thrive in America,” Gutierrez told reporters Tuesday night. He added family-based migration is “ fundamental to who we are.”

Opponents say the current system of family migration creates a security risk by allowing an easy pathway into residency in the United States. Supporters say the practice allowing an immigrant into the U.S. to sponsor green cards for spouses, children and siblings reunites families.

A new bill introduced in the U.S. House by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Michael McCaul (R-TX), joined by conservative Freedom Caucus member Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Arizona Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-AZ) addresses all of these issues and eliminates the diversity visa, another item on Trump's wish list.

This bill would “honor the commitment the president made to couple it [DACA fix] with securing our borders and ending chain migration,” Goodlatte said Wednesday.

Passing the bill, however, will take time and with neither side eager to appear responsible for shutting down the U.S. government, the expectation from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is that each of these issues will have to be resolved step by step.

“It’s still my view that I will call up a DACA-related immigration bill that I know the president will sign,” he said Monday, “and that it will not be a part of any overall spending agreement.”