It is becoming clearer that the future of 800,000 undocumented young people who moved to the U.S. as children will be almost impossible for the U.S. Congress to separate from a larger, even more contentious debate over comprehensive immigration reform.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi face that formidable obstacle as they meet Wednesday night, in a first attempt to hammer out a permanent legislative solution to the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, rescinded last week by President Donald Trump with the expectation Congress could find a fix.
Pelosi and Democratic congressional caucuses asked the House Republican leader for a meeting after a week of demands for action, saying the so-called “Dreamers” deserved an end to their uncertain status by September 30.
But House Republicans recognize that negotiations on the DACA program present an unusual opportunity for compromises on Trump’s calls for increased border security and comprehensive immigration reform, a solution that’s eluded past presidents and Congress.
“I do believe that kicking these 800,000 kids out to countries that they probably not been to since they were toddlers, in countries that speak languages they may not even know, is not in our nation’s interest, so I do believe that there’s got to be a solution to this problem,” Ryan, a Republican, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday morning.
“But at the same time, I think it’s only reasonable, it makes perfect common sense, that we deal with the problem that was the root cause of this, which is we do not have operational control of our borders,” he said.
Republicans said it would be impossible to find a permanent fix for DACA recipients, while failing to resolve the status of the nearly 12 million undocumented people now living in the United States.
“The message has to be – in six months, we’re going to start enforcing the law,” Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican from the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday morning. “Because that’s where the leverage comes from.”
Labrador said conservative House Republicans would never vote for a so-called “clean” legislative fix for DACA, which would only address that program.
“The president gave us a golden opportunity with the announcement he made about DACA – the Democrats have to get on board,” Labrador said. “They’re not going to get anything they want if they don’t help us fix the border security issues and interior security issues.”
Working in increments
But at this early stage in negotiations, both parties are still looking for the upper hand.
“There are always some members who are going to be pushing the goal posts. I don’t think we do comprehensive reform well on anything,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a Republican from Pennsylvania and a chairman of the so-called Tuesday Group of House moderates. “We should do some kind of incremental change on immigration to start. We should have a comprehensive process but do incremental bills. We should attach some DACA and border security together – that’s easy to do.”
Dent said he supports the Recognizing America’s Children Act, sponsored by Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo.
If passed, the legislation would provide the 800,000 undocumented young people with three pathways toward five-year conditional status – through service in the armed forces, higher education or work authorization. After those five years, they would be eligible to reapply for five-year permanent status.
Last week, House Democrats used a procedural move to try to force a floor vote on their own version of DACA legislation, the Dream Act.
Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, warned in a press conference with Pelosi last week that congressional Democrats would attach DACA legislation to other bills if Republican leadership did not bring it up for a vote in September.
Schumer and Pelosi are due to have dinner with Trump Wednesday night to discuss the fall legislative agenda, including legislative fixes for DACA. The meeting between the president and the top congressional Democrats follows their deal last week to tie together an increase of the debt ceiling with short-term government funding.
House Republicans did advance immigration legislation this week, introducing a bill requiring U.S. employers to use E-Verify, a online system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.
They also scheduled a Thursday vote on the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act. If passed, the measure would deny criminal alien gang members entry to the United States and make them ineligible for asylum, special immigrant juvenile status, temporary protected status, and, with limited exceptions for law enforcement purposes, parole.
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