Democrats eye spending bill that could help keep Dreamers in the US
Washington — While Democrats and immigration advocates recoiled at hard-line immigration proposals unveiled by the White House this week, they see a chance to force Republicans’ hand on legislation to help young "Dreamers" brought to the country illegally as children.
Their focus? A spending bill that Congress will need to pass in December to keep the US government open. Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, may need Democratic votes to approve the legislation because of divisions within their party over fiscal restraint.
Democrats are considering insisting on help for the Dreamers as their price for providing the votes that may be required to prevent a government shutdown. Republican President Donald Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme last month that protected the Dreamers, and gave Congress six months to find a solution.
"This is all heading towards a December deal on Dreamers as part of an omnibus or spending package," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a liberal-leaning immigration advocacy group. "If Trump embraces the nativists in his base and says, ‘No deal unless I get everything’, there won’t be many, if any, Democratic votes for a spending package that excludes Dreamers."
House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told the Washington Post on Monday that she did not rule out withholding Democratic support for the spending bill if needed to obtain a deal to protect the nearly 800,000 Dreamers in the US.
Asked about the possibility of including action on Dreamers in the spending measure, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration was not focused on the implementation process at the moment but would get into that at meetings this week after releasing the president’s priorities on Sunday night.
In December, Trump and Congress face the expiration of a three-month deal struck on September 8 to prevent a government shutdown. The surprise deal between Trump and congressional Democrats maintained federal government funding at levels then in place until December 8. Another stop-gap bill will likely be needed to replace it, setting up further fiscal and legislative drama in Washington.
Republican leaders in the House have struggled in recent years to get a consensus within their party on budget deals. Members of the conservative Freedom Caucus have often demanded deep budget cuts unpalatable to more moderate Republicans.
If enough Republican lawmakers break ranks on the budget, House leaders would need Democratic votes to help make up the difference and avoid a government shutdown.
As a businessman, Trump had a reputation for working to get deals by opening with an aggressive list of demands and later leaving the door open to compromise. Administration officials want his immigration priorities implemented in conjunction with a plan to give Dreamers legal status. The wish list includes funding for a wall on the US border with Mexico and a crackdown on unaccompanied minors who enter the US from Central America.
Pro-immigration advocates dismissed those demands as non-starters and largely brushed off their release as immaterial to the debate because they were unacceptable to Democrats and many Republicans. "I don’t think the ideas presented on Sunday really change the discussion or complicate things at all," said Tom Jawetz, vice-president of immigration policy at the Centre for American Progress.
Advocates say there is bipartisan support for measures to prevent Dreamers from facing deportation and allow them to secure work permits after Trump ended DACA. The White House and many Trump supporters are eager, however, to see key campaign promises on border security enacted in exchange for any such fix.
This has advocates focused on the spending, or omnibus bill, as an avenue for Dreamer legislation that could pass both chambers unencumbered by demands related to immigration enforcement.
"It’s highly unlikely that a stand-alone bill could ever reach the president’s desk," said Tyler Moran, MD of the DC Immigration Hub, a strategy organisation for pro-immigration groups. "The only vehicle is the omnibus bill."