WASHINGTON — Despite deep party divides surrounding immigration policy, House Republican and Democratic leaders on Thursday said they were confident that Congress would pass a bill that protects “dreamers.”
Speaking at back-to-back news conferences, both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said they think Congress can reach a bipartisan solution to immigration reform. Their statements follow weeks of debate over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, which President Donald Trump canceled last September and gave Congress six months to come up with an alternative.
Trump summoned lawmakers to the White House on Tuesday to try to negotiate an immigration bill that would address both border security and immigration policy, most notably the legal status of “dreamers,” or undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
DACA, created by then President Barack Obama, enables “dreamers” to receive two-year renewable residency permits as well as work permits. At least 700,000 people across the country are in the program. On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked the administration’s efforts to end DACA, stating that the administration must continue the program until a replacement has been found.
Marielena Hincapié, executive director for the National Immigration Law Center, said in an email that the ruling confirmed that the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA was “unlawful.” Still, she said, the court’s injunction is not permanent and stressed the importance of congressional action.
“This is a preliminary injunction, which is temporary, and DACA recipients, their families, employers, communities, and frankly the country, needs a permanent solution which only Congress can provide,” she said. “We can’t wait.”
Conservatives have pushed back against restoring DACA, especially if there is not funding for Trump’s proposed wall between Mexico and the U.S. and tighten immigration laws. However, a number of Republicans support extending protections to “dreamers.” The debate over immigration reform has become tangled in the need to vote on continued federal funding to avoid a government shutdown on Jan. 19, when funding runs out under the current temporary funding authorization. In the Senate, Republicans would have to gain the support of at least nine Democrats to have a filibuster-proof majority.
Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center of Immigration Studies, which advocates for strict limits to reduce the number of immigrants, said the likelihood of a government shutdown over DACA is low. If Democrats do not compromise, he said, they will be sending the message that pardoning undocumented immigrants is more important than keeping the government open for American citizens.
“Every government shutdown is really just a PR contest,” Krikorian said. “Republicans often end up getting the blame, but that’s going to be hard to do in this case because the Republicans are willing to play ball.”
A bipartisan group of senators – including Democrat Richard Durbin of Illinois and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona – said they were nearing a deal on a bill that would address the status of young undocumented immigrants, restrictions on migration and border security.
At Thursday’s press briefing, Pelosi said the talks among the senators could have happened “four months ago.” She criticized the group of lawmakers for ignoring the bipartisan discussion already going on across Congress.
“I think people of good will are coming together on both sides of the aisle, in both houses of Congress, to get the job done,” Pelosi said.
Despite tension between the parties, Pelosi said she believes Congress can pass a bipartisan solution.
Ryan said the same at his Thursday briefing, stressing that the most important thing is to keep negotiating to reach permanent solutions that will address both the “dreamers” and general border security long-term.
“We want to fix DACA,” Ryan said. “We want to fix DACA while addressing its root causes, so we don’t have to fix DACA again … I’m confident that we will find a solution.”