CAPITOL HILL - Funding for the U.S. government runs out Friday, and some Democratic lawmakers are threatening to vote against spending bills unless Congress addresses the plight of roughly 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children — a group whose protection from deportation was revoked by President Donald Trump.
“Congress must pass the #DREAMAct before year’s end,” tweeted Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, underscoring his support for a bill that would grant U.S. residency to beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA], a program, crafted by the former Obama administration, that Trump rescinded in September.
“Time is running out to pass the #DreamAct before the end of the year,” Democratic Representative Ted Lieu of California wrote on Twitter. “GOP leadership must bring a bill to the floor for a vote immediately before Members go home for the holidays.”
The push for a DACA fix gained bipartisan momentum on Tuesday when more than 30 House Republicans signed a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan urging congressional action.
“We must pass legislation that protects DACA recipients from deportation and gives them the opportunity to apply for a more secured status in our country as soon as possible,” the letter said. “Reaching across the aisle to protect DACA recipients before the holidays is the right thing to do.”
Republican congressional leaders point out that, while ending DACA, Trump delayed potential deportations until March 5 of next year, giving Congress several more months to pass a legislative solution for young immigrants.
“There is no emergency. The president has given us until March to address it,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Sunday on ABC’s This Week program. “I don’t think Democrats would be very smart to say they want to shut down the government over a non-emergency that we can address anytime between now and March.”
“Some of our Democratic friends are threatening to shut down the government this month, without an agreement on DACA,” said Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas. “That’s simply a hysterical and cynical ploy, putting their party and their agenda ahead of the nation.”
Cornyn acknowledged that negotiations between Senate Republicans and Democrats over a DACA fix, U.S. border security, and other immigration-related items are at “an impasse.”
Immigrant advocacy groups were swift to respond.
“Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes, and John Cornyn talking a good game but getting to ‘no’ on immigration when it counts,” said America’s Voice in a statement. “Call it the ‘Cornyn Con.’”
Democrats said the delay is causing real harm, with hundreds of thousands of DACA beneficiaries who have worked and studied in the United States unsure of their future in the country where they grew up.
“Here we are three months after that challenge from President Trump, and what has the Republican majority done in the Senate or the House? Absolutely nothing,” said Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. “It’s pretty easy for any member of the U.S. Senate to say, ‘What’s the hurry – let’s go slow.’ Until they sit down and talk to the young people who are affected.
“Many of them are extraordinarily talented young people,” Durbin added. “The uncertainty, the worry, the stress for these young people will continue while we do nothing.”
Cornyn insisted he needs no lectures on the needs of young immigrants.
“I come from a state where there are 124,000 DACA beneficiaries, so I understand what’s at stake,” the Texas senator said. “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, and now find themselves trapped. 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.”
Under DACA, undocumented people who arrived as minors were able to study and work in the United States for two-year periods that could be renewed indefinitely. Former President Barack Obama launched the program by executive order in 2012.
A year later, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have addressed the legal status of all undocumented aliens, including DACA beneficiaries. The House never voted on the bill, and the initiative stalled. Neither chamber has taken up immigration reform since then.
Unless Congress extends federal funding, a partial shutdown of the U.S. government will begin Friday at midnight, Washington time. Although Republicans control both houses of Congress, they are expected to need Democratic votes to pass a spending bill, giving Democrats leverage in negotiations.
Congressional leaders of both parties are expected to meet with President Trump to discuss legislative priorities on Thursday. Democrats boycotted a White House meeting last week after Trump preemptively scoffed at the encounter on Twitter.
With the days counting down to a government shutdown, Democrats are mostly united in pressing for a DACA fix. Republicans, on the other hand, are showing divisions.
The House Republican letter urging prompt congressional action on DACA by year’s end was rejected by several other members of the caucus, including Bradley Byrne of Alabama.
“DACA is not going to be a part of this. We made that very clear,” Byrne told reporters. “We will deal with DACA in the first part of the year. I think there will be enough votes. It’s a funding bill, not a DACA bill.”
Democrats took note of the chaos and uncertainty on Capitol Hill.
“They [Republicans] are in turmoil,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. “It’s been a standard operating procedure for them.”