One day after hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants formally lost temporary protection from deportation, Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona attempted to revive U.S. Senate debate on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which had provided temporary work and study permits to beneficiaries.
“There are teachers, students and members of the military who are DACA recipients. They are friends and colleagues who represent the very best ideas of America,” Flake said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to extend DACA protections for three years and provide for three years of increased border funding.”
Another Republican, James Lankford of Oklahoma, objected to Flake’s motion, shelving the issue once again.
“If Congress does a temporary patch once, it’ll do it 20 times again,” Lankford said.
Last year, President Donald Trump set a March 5 expiration date for DACA, an Obama administration program protecting immigrants brought illegally into the country as children. Trump challenged Congress to enact a permanent fix granting the immigrants legal status. Lawmakers of both political parties back the goal, but Congress has yet to act.
In the meantime, federal court battles over Trump’s DACA order have prevented deportations from going forward — a reprieve for so-called “Dreamers” that could end at any time.
“It’s a politically tricky issue for Republicans,” said political analyst Molly Reynolds of the Washington-based Brookings Institution. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan “are really hesitant to expose those divides within the party. I also think they are hesitant to be seen as giving a win to Democrats,” she added.
On Twitter and in recent public speeches, Trump has blamed Democrats for Washington’s inaction.
“We’re trying to have a DACA victory for everybody, by the way, and the Democrats are nowhere to be found,” the president said Wednesday in an address to Hispanic business leaders.
Democrats insist they remain ready to make a deal with Republicans on immigration and border security, noting it was Trump who, in January, appeared to endorse a bipartisan proposal with a DACA fix, then rejected it days later.
“This humanitarian crisis in this country, and I call it that, was created by President Trump on September 5,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said. “He has failed to agree to six different bipartisan proposals to solve the problem he created. And now these lives hang in the balance.”
Observers note that, while Democrats are in the minority in Congress, they are not without clout, especially in the Senate, where a three-fifths majority is required for most legislation to advance.
“It’s a matter of, do Democrats want to keep pushing the issue?” Reynolds said.
Democrats could apply pressure for action on immigration by withholding votes later this month on a yearlong government funding bill. They already used that tactic earlier this year, causing a brief federal shutdown, and Democratic leaders have shown little appetite for a repeat.
“We’re going to keep fighting hard for DACA, but we need to hear something from Republicans, because they’re the ones who have thwarted it time and time again,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Court challenges to Trump’s DACA decision have, in effect, extended the deadline for Congress to act. Political analysts believe that makes it more likely that Dreamers will remain in legal limbo through the November midterm elections.