The outline of a deal to formally codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy began to emerge Wednesday, just a day after President Donald Trump announced he was rescinding the program with a six-month phase-out.
Congressional officials from both sides of the aisle hinted that they would support a bill re-applying legal protections for the so-called DREAMers—undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children—in exchange for border security measures that did not include funding a wall along the southern border. A top Senate Democratic aide said that the party would be open to agreeing to items such as additional drone operations, fencing and sensors; but not a “presidential vanity project.”
“We are open to security that makes sense,” the aide said, noting that the party had agreed to a similar exchange—albeit on a much larger scale—when it put together a comprehensive immigration reform deal in 2013. That measure included some $40 billion for border security measures.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), meanwhile, told reporters that any compromise with Democrats on protecting DREAMers should include border security measures.
“It’s only reasonable and fitting that we also address the root cause of the problem—which is borders that are not sufficiently controlled—while we address this very real and very human problem that’s right in front of us,” Ryan said.
Ryan notably did not reference the construction of a physical wall as part of those measures, and aides did not return a request for clarification.
Should such a deal actually materialize, it would represent a remarkable breakthrough for an immigration reform that has been defined, almost solely, by congressional inaction. But there are numerous hurdles for Congress to bypass before a vote is held, let alone a piece of legislation introduced.
Democrats first will attempt to reinstitute DACA legislatively as a standalone measure. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), joined by other congressional Democrats at a press conference Wednesday morning, predicted that the DREAM Act—legislation which shields DREAMers from deportation—would “overwhelmingly” pass if it were brought to a full floor vote in both chambers.
“If a clean DREAM Act does not come to the floor in September, we’re prepared to attach it to other items this fall until it passes,” Schumer said.
Some GOP members have sided with Democrats in arguing that preserving DACA legislatively is too important to tie other programs to it. Four Republican senators—Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Cory Gardner (R-CO)—have said in recent days that they support the DREAM Act. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who also supports the DREAM Act, told The Daily Beast she wants “an up-or-down vote on the floor” on the measure.
“There’s been some talk about a border wall in exchange for DREAMer protections. It’s so cruel and cynical to be bargaining and wheeling and dealing when you’re talking about human lives,” the retiring Florida Republican added.
Most Republicans, however, either agree with Ryan’s position or want to go even further by including border wall funding.
Still, the room for legislative maneuvering around a DACA replacement seemed far wider than initially anticipated, with advocates for reform admitting surprise at how willing Republican lawmakers appeared to be toward cutting a deal. Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump in his presidential bid, said that he not only supports enhanced border security and the construction of a border wall—he also supports DACA, and has co-sponsored a bill that would provide a pathway to legal status for children whose parents brought them to the country illegally. Collins told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that support for the three measures doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.
“I also believe we do need to build a wall and border security is part of the future, so since I am a yes on all of these, if someone in leadership wants to combine them, that’s good by me,” Collins said.
A top immigration advocate told The Daily Beast that the expectation among political operatives working on the issue is that certain trade-offs will have to be made in order to get DACA on permanent footing. But that advocate said that major sticking points remained.
“The fault line to figure out here is can they, Democrats and Republicans, figure out something that Trump would agree to and the DREAMers would agree to,” the advocate said, speaking anonymously in order to speak candidly about legislative expectations.
Indeed, many DREAMers have argued against the idea that their fate should be offered up in exchange for money for a border wall. It’s less clear if they would oppose giving the Trump administration and congressional Republicans enhanced funding for security measures that don’t involve a wall.
“We want a stand-alone DREAM Act, and we aren’t going to let Congress use DREAMers as bargaining chips,” said Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of America's Voice. “Republicans better find a way to get this done, and Democrats need to be very aggressive in trying to attach the DREAM Act to bills that are moving. The public is with DREAMers, the momentum is with us, Democrats have lots of leverage on spending bills and Republicans need to get rid of the hand grenade Trump just tossed them.”