CAPITOL HILL —
Two days before U.S. government funding expires, lawmakers appeared no closer to resolving a potential sticking point on a spending bill to avert a shutdown: the plight of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children.
Many Democrats remained firm in linking an extension of federal funds to congressional action allowing nearly 800,000 young immigrants to continue to work and study in the United States after President Donald Trump rescinded a program that had shielded them from deportation.
WATCH: DACA Decision in Jeopardy as Government Shutdown Looms
Many Republicans remained equally firm in linking a legislative solution for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to strengthening U.S. border security, cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities, expanding an employee identity verification program, and placing greater emphasis on economic productivity as a criteria for legal immigration.
"Any bill that funds the government must also include a fix for DACA," said Democratic Senator Kamala Harris of California. "These young people have stood in classrooms and stood in line in many places and placed their hand over their heart, pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States, a flag that many of us wear on our lapel."
DACA, border policies
Trump took aim at Democrats, suggesting their demands on DACA are part of a larger campaign for open U.S. borders.
"The Democrats are really looking at something that is really dangerous for our country. They are looking at shutting down [the government]," the president said Wednesday at the White House. "They want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime. We don't want to have that."
On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans noted that, while Trump ended DACA in September, he delayed potential deportations until March 5, giving Congress time not only to craft a DACA fix but also to address other immigration concerns.
"We're going to have to come up with a negotiated outcome that demonstrates our compassion to these young adults who came here as children through no fault of their own," Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas said. "We need to make sure we stop, or limit as much as we can, illegal immigration into the United States, and that we enforce our laws. They are engaging in destructive identity politics and turning their back on the rest of the nation."
Congress' last attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform ended in failure in 2013. Democrats insist DACA beneficiaries, also commonly referred to as Dreamers, deserve protection now.
"We must protect Dreamers and allow them to continue to be vital members of communities across the nation," New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan said. "The energy, hard work and innovation of Dreamers are critical components of our economic future. These are hardworking young people who have so much to offer and who deserve our support and our urgent action."
Demonstration at Capitol
DACA beneficiaries and immigrant advocacy groups have mounted a series of demonstrations across the country in recent weeks. Hundreds gathered outside the Capitol building Wednesday.
"I was raised in America, I went to school in America, I work in America," said high school student Maria del Cielo, who was born in Mexico and brought to the United States at the age of 3. "We want something that will give us citizenship so I can go to work and go to school in peace. … I want to give back to my community and the country."
That message was echoed by Mexican-born nursing student Carlos Esteban, who was brought to the United States at the age of 15.
"I love the United States. This is my home," Esteban said. "I would love to join the military, once I graduate, and be a military nurse. My passion is to help people."
While immigration as a whole is a polarizing topic in America, polls have consistently shown majority support for allowing DACA beneficiaries to remain in the country, something Democrats and Republicans both acknowledge.
"We're trying to get a productive discussion going with Democrats and Republicans who will come together and recognize that a balanced bill that provides for border security, provides a sustainable solution for the DACA population, and get it done before March 5," Republican Senator Tom Tillis of North Carolina said.
"President Trump challenged us — do your job, pass a law. That's what we're supposed to do. Well, here we are, three months later and it hasn't been done," Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said. "And what I hear from the other side of the aisle [Republicans] is, 'Give us a little more time. We'll try to get to it next year.' Waiting several weeks [to fix it] is bad enough. Waiting several months is unacceptable."
Unless Congress passes and Trump signs a spending bill by midnight Friday, the U.S. government will partially shut down, with non-essential functions suspended.
Congressional leaders of both parties are expected to meet Thursday with Trump to discuss a path forward.