As the deadline for the end of protections for undocumented youth nears, negotiations between congressional leaders and White House officials continue in Washington.
On Wednesday, Democratic and Republican senior congressional leaders met at the Capitol — together with White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and legislative-affairs director Marc Short — for renewed talks on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
This marked the first meeting of the new year on DACA, which the Trump Administration rescinded Sept. 5, 2017, effectively leaving more than 700,000 young undocumented immigrants unprotected from deportation should Congress fail to introduce legislation replacing the Obama-era program.
Last week, President Donald Trump tweeted that Democrats know there can be no DACA replacement without the “desperately needed” wall along the U.S. Mexico border and an end to the “horrible” chain migration and lottery system of immigration.
But on Thursday, Trump’s tone was more optimistic about there being a bipartisan solution to DACA.
“We really want to work it out,” Trump said. “I can tell you Republicans want to see it work out very well. If we have support from Democrats, I think DACA is going to be terrific.”
Trump, however, remained steadfast that a border wall had to be part of any deal with DACA.
“We need protection, we need the wall, we need all those things and frankly I think a lot of Democrats agree with us when they see what is happening,” Trump said. “When they see the kind of problems we’re having at the border, they really understand it.”
Now with the March 5 deadline on the horizon, leaders from both parties look to find a middle ground regarding the program’s replacement and what it would take to get it pushed through with bi-partisan support.
Congressional Democrats are being pressed by immigration advocates to deny any government funding deal that would not resolve the issue of replacing DACA.
While congressional Republicans face pressure from conservative lawmakers and activists not to find protections for recipients, who are often referred to as Dreamers, and let the rescinded program fade.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, says the delay on an agreement boils down to Republicans holding border security and the wall as bargaining chips in the negotiations.
“First of all, I think (border security and the border wall) are two separate issues,” Cuellar said. “I’m not going to agree to a wall to agree on DACA. I support DACA but I don’t think we need to give in on the wall. We can say more border security, more personnel, more technology, cameras, sensors, so we can address the issue, but not a wall.”
Despite this, Cuellar said, he’s also optimistic about a deal in place to replace the rescinded program but worries that Republican leadership will not allow a vote on the measure.
“I’ve been optimistic about reaching an agreement on DACA for a while because I’ve talked to many Republicans who support DACA, and we can get it done,” the congressman said. “Problem is the leadership won’t put it for a vote because they’re trying to help Trump get leverage on the wall itself. What the Republicans are doing is they’re using DACA to add some immigration reform — the ones they want to do — and to try to bring in the wall. …But the Republicans are trying to add the wall and I don’t think the wall is going to be added.”
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, echoed optimism should Republicans opt for a vote.
“It sounds like Republicans are all over the map with what they want to do with dreamers,” Vela said. “We don’t have a real significant proposal before us; nonetheless, what they want to do is to propose something that does not give Dreamers a pathway to citizenship — something that the Dream Act would.
“(Republicans) want to condition their own limited proposal with border wall funding, probably (the) $1.6 billion in border wall funding like the House passed.”
As a result, Vela said he is determined to vote against any plan that would involve funding for the border wall.
“I’m not going to vote for one penny of border wall funding under any circumstances, and to me what we ought to be doing is just vote on the Dream Act — separate and apart from any border security provisions,” he said. “I think we need strong border security but I think we can accomplish that without border walls.”
He believes the Jan. 19 deadline to fund the government and avoid a shutdown would be an appropriate deadline for a vote on a clean Dream Act. Still, Vela remains unconvinced.
“Many of us believe that if we’re going to continue to fund the government that we ought to have a Dream Act deal done, and that’s why many of us voted against the continuing resolution back in December,” Vela said. “…We figured we’re willing to stay here through Christmas but the Republican majority basically decided to give us a three-week temporary resolution.”
John-Michael Torres — spokesman for La Union del Pueblo Entero, a local immigrant advocacy group better known as LUPE — said he and many DACA advocates were frustrated with the lack of movement on the deal before the end of the year. But he also believes the new year will bring more negotiations toward a resolution.
“We are disappointed and angry that Congress did not act before the end of the year, but we are determined and optimistic for our chances in January,” Torres said. “A vote for a spending bill without DACA protections is a vote to fund the deportation of immigrant youth, 122 of whom are losing protections from deportation every day.”
Torres estimates more than about 122 DACA recipients lose their DACA protection everyday.