The future of almost 800,000 undocumented young people in the United States is hanging in the balance in an end-of-year legislative pileup on Capitol Hill that could result in the shutdown of the federal government.
The government will run out of money December 8 unless Congress approves a new budget or budget extension. While the focus this week has been largely on the Senate's approval of its tax cut bill, the budget bill could have greater short-term ramifications. The Republican-dominated Senate cannot pass it alone; Democratic votes will be needed.
But both houses of Congress will have to vote on a spending measure before it can go into effect.
And underlying all the discussions of spending priorities is finding a permanent solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave temporary protection from deportation, and permission to legally work, to undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children.
Trump calls for legislation
President Donald Trump rescinded the Obama administration measure earlier this year, calling on Congress to pass legislation that would provide DACA recipients with a path to permanent status in the U.S. before the program phases out in March 2018.
Democrats initially pushed for stand-alone legislation to address the problem, but given the country’s contentious immigration debate, they have instead tried to tie DACA legislation to the spending bill.
Some Democrats have vowed to vote against any budget bill that does not include a DACA fix, threatening a government shutdown when the funding runs out.
But House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has said the fix to the DACA program should “be considered on its own merits” and not as part of a larger spending bill.
Moves toward any bipartisan agreement stalled before a planned meeting Tuesday when Trump tweeted that he “didn’t see a deal” with Senate and House Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer of New York and Nancy Pelosi of California, respectively.
Trump tweeted a claim that a deal was being held up, in part, because Schumer and Pelosi “want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked.”
House Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland responded to Trump's tweet in a background briefing with reporters Tuesday morning, saying, “That is absolutely false. That has nothing to do with reality — he is pandering to his angry base. DACA kids are here. They're not flooding across the border. They're here."
Hoyer reiterated a Democratic claim that if brought up for a floor vote, DACA legislation would pass by 300 votes.
Schumer and Pelosi responded by withdrawing from the meeting with Trump, asking to work instead with Senate and House Republican leaders Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Ryan, respectively. The White House meeting continued with all Republicans present and no Democrats.
On the face of it, the March 2018 deadline for the program gives lawmakers room to maneuver if Congress were to pass a short-term spending bill and kick DACA down the road. The budget could be extended to Christmas to give Democrats and Republicans more room to work on a compromise.
But some DACA recipients have already lost their status.
The Department of Homeland Security said in October that about 22,000 DACA recipients had failed to renew their two-year permits before an October 5 deadline. That number may come down after a review of renewal applications that may have been lost in the mail.
And while support for DACA is bipartisan, it may not be enough. Both parties are reluctant to risk the political blowback that would occur if either side appears responsible for a government shutdown.