The deadline for Congress to pass spending legislation is midnight on Friday, and while some Democrats in previous months have promised to force a vote on a measure to ensure the safety of roughly 1.2 million undocumented immigrants that came to the United States as minors, they will instead seek to avert a government shutdown.
In early September, President Donald Trump decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), an Obama-era program which granted working permits to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
DACA recipients, known sometimes as Dreamers, were left in limbo by the president, without any promise that they had a future in the only country many had ever known. The deadline is March 5, and Congress has had the ability to determine their fate.
But Democrats in conservative states are nervous about reelection in 2018, and with 25 seats up for grabs — 10 in states won by Trump — some have said they aren't going to stick their necks out on a contentious immigration issue.
"We’ve got to get it done, but I’m not drawing a line in the sand that it has to be this week versus two weeks from now," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said, according to The Washington Post.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., agreed with McCaskill, saying that he would "exercise every bit of leverage I can for the Dream Act, but if there is a vote that would lead to a shutdown, that’s where I draw the line."
Kaine added that Latino workers at a meeting in Northern Virginia told him not to shut down the government, the Post reported.
"But around that table there were Latino federal employees who say, 'Don’t shut down the federal government,'" Kaine said.
Some DACA recipients expressed outrage and felt abandoned by the Democratic Party, which they had thought would stand by them.
"I had [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi tell me to my face that she would get this done by the end of the year," 26-year-old Adrian Reyna, a DACA recipient, told the Post.
Reyna added that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., "looked into the eyes of our members and said he’s committed to getting this done. They cannot just tell us they are going to do something and then just drop out."
Instead, a group of bipartisan senators are hoping to negotiate with the White House and strike a deal that would increase border security while also allowing certain protections for Dreamers, according to Politico.
Congressional Republicans and the White House have long said any DACA deal would need to be paired with security and other enforcement measures. Democrats say that's fine as long as the provisions weren’t too onerous. But the border security question has been a sticking point for weeks, as senators swapped proposals without cutting a deal, so far.
And while liberal Democrats and grass-roots activists are pressuring Congress to enact permanent legal protections for Dreamers this year, both Democrats and Republicans at the meeting with [chief of staff John] Kelly said there was a consensus that legislation wouldn’t pass before lawmakers leave Washington. It was one of the clearest sign yet that a Dreamers agreement won't, to the chagrin of liberals, come before 2018.
Nearly a dozen senators who have been heavily involved with immigration measures met with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who pledged the Trump administration "will soon present a list of border security and other policy changes it wants as part of a broader deal on so-called Dreamers," Politico reported.
"We couldn’t finish this product, this bill, until we knew where the administration was," Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told Politico. "And that’s why this meeting was so important." Flake has been negotiating a compromise for DACA for the last few weeks.
Flake added that he needed to know more about what the Trump administration was willing to negotiate on.
"Which of those policy items, or immigration law changes, do we need to make as part of this and what can wait for something else?" Flake asked. "There’s a lot of nice things we need to do as part of broader comprehensive reform, but we need to have a bill in January and we need to know what has to be in it and what the administration will support."
Flake said he had been promised a vote on DACA in mid-January by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., but prior to "the next likely deadline to fund the government, Jan. 19," Politico reported.
"No, we’ll not be doing DACA … this week," McConnell said. "That’s a matter to be discussed next year. The president has given us until March to address that issue. We have plenty of time to do it."
There is a divide among Democrats, however, as Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 in the Senate who attended the meeting and helped draft the Dream Act, is firmly not voting for a spending bill that doesn't address the DACA issue, Politico reported. He is joined by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
"Our belief is that if this matter is not resolved this week — and it's not likely to be resolved — that come the omnibus and the caps, that we have another chance to finally come up with a bipartisan package of things to include," Durbin said, Politico reported. "The closer we get [to the March deadline], the more nervous I get, not to mention the way these young people feel. I'm sorry that it's taken this long."