The recent federal government shutdown happened largely because congressional leaders and President Trump weren’t able to agree on a path forward to protect so-called “Dreamers” (under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA) from deportation.
This logjam was of course created by President Trump himself when his administration announced last September that it would begin phasing out DACA.
Even though the legislative deal that ended the government shutdown didn’t protect Dreamers, it did deliver some good news in that it provided funds to keep the Children’s Health Insurance Program running for another six years. For the two million children in California who depend on the program for medical services, this was welcome news.
Still, the primary reason why both of California’s Senators and 33 of California’s 52 Representatives opposed the deal is because of its deeply frustrating failure to protect Dreamers.
But the fight is not over. The latest deal only keeps the government open until February 8, providing another pressure point for advocates to focus on. So what happens next?
Bipartisan groups of legislators in both the House and Senate have each introduced bills to provide Dreamers with a path to legalization, and they’re working to build support. In the Senate, at last count, 57 Senators are on board with a proposal by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC), just three votes shy of the 60 votes they need for passage.
In the House, Representatives Pete Aguilar (D-CA) and Will Hurd (R-TX), have 50 supporters signed onto their bill, evenly split between each party. Many observers believe that a bipartisan Dreamer bill could easily garner a majority of votes in the House.
In the meantime, the White House released its proposal to provide a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, but at the cost of a border wall and drastic cuts to legal immigration. Democrats and several moderate Republicans have dismissed the proposal as too restrictionist, hard-line conservatives in the House of Representatives have dissed it as being too generous to undocumented immigrants. Those hardliners are pushing for a vote on a strict anti-immigrant bill that has no pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, and would turn local police into immigration enforcement agents, deny federal grants to sanctuary cities, and slash legal immigration by 38 percent.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised a vote on a DACA-related bill in the coming weeks, but even if a bill passes in the Senate, there’s no guarantee that the House will take it up and vote on it too.
That’s why advocates for Dreamers and their supporters in Congress have been calling for attaching a DACA-related bill, such as the Dream Act, to “must-pass” legislation that funds the government. President Trump has flip-flopped on whether he supports a bipartisan deal and whether to attach it to government funding legislation. Meanwhile, McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) have been pretty consistent in saying they don’t want to combine a DACA-related bill with a government funding bill.
Whether they change their mind, or whether Speaker Ryan allows a vote in the House on a DACA-related bill, will depend a lot on two factors.
First, the advocacy that happens in the coming days while members of Congress are in their districts or back in Washington.
And second, the willingness of members of Congress from both parties to stand up to hardliners in the House and within the White House, such as Stephen Miller, who have been undermining every effort to reach a reasonable compromise.