Over the next several weeks, chances are that one of two things will happen in Washington: Either a Republican-controlled Congress will pass, and a Republican president will sign, the most significant changes to U.S. immigration law and border security in more than a decade, or the federal government will shut down.
The precarious status of about 700,000 young immigrants is coming to a head, and leaders of both parties are finally hunkered down in negotiations over whether—and under what conditions—to protect them from the threat of deportation. Without congressional action, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will end in March, halting the reprieve former President Barack Obama granted to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. But the real deadline is likely much sooner, because Democrats on Capitol Hill are under increasing pressure to use their limited legislative power to block any new extension of government funding if Republicans don’t act on DACA. Under a stopgap measure Congress enacted last month, the next spending bill must pass by January 19.
“The urgency is there for us to get something immediately,” said Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition. “Even though there is positive momentum, that momentum isn’t translating into concrete policies and a final policy deal.”
The wild card in the negotiations, as ever, is President Trump, who has vacillated in his demands for legislation to enshrine DACA provisions into law. Will he accept a path to citizenship for most or all Dreamers, as Democrats are insisting upon, or will he draw a line at more limited protections? And will Trump demand money for construction of his signature southern border wall and changes to the legal immigration system, or will he accept more modest enhancements to border security? In recent days, the president has returned to a more confrontational posture, as the White House angered Democrats by sending over the same list of hard-line demands it released in October.