Political News

DACA negotiations reach critical week

Posted December 18, 2017 11:38 a.m. EST

— As lawmakers reach the final week to decide year-end government funding, negotiations on saving the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program are reaching a fever pitch despite long odds.

Chances remain slim that lawmakers will reach agreement before the end of the year on what to do about DACA, which President Donald Trump has decided to end. Still, talks in both chambers are continuing in the hopes that a last-minute option could be reached or there will be an opportunity early next year, according to sources close to the discussions.

The House and Senate are still divided on what it will do next to fund the government beyond Friday's deadline. It's believed that a deal can be reached in the Senate to punt some issues, including DACA, until January, but unclear if Republicans will have the votes in the House.

And if leadership in the House needs a substantial amount of Democratic votes, DACA could very likely be a requirement in a deal.

That's driving some negotiators to put something out this week, just in case leadership needs a last-minute fix.

The greatest hope for advocates who want to see a version of the program, which protects young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, put into law is the Senate talks.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, has been leading a bipartisan working group with North Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. The pair hosted the group in Durbin's office for multiple meetings last week, including a Thursday gathering before lawmakers left town that included Republicans James Lankford, Cory Gardner, Jeff Flake and staff from Sen. Thom Tillis and Democrat Michael Bennet.

After the meeting, Durbin said a deal was "starting to take form" but work remained. Tillis earlier that day estimated the group was "maybe a third of the way there," saying what a DACA piece should look like was mostly done, but still unresolved is what border security and reform to "chain migration," or family-based migration, which the President has repeatedly demanded, will be included. On Monday, Tillis said the talks had moved into the border security piece.

Republicans say a deal is not attainable but this year, but possible in January.

On the House side, moderate Republicans are working with Democratic colleagues to try to put together some compromise options, with Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo pushing especially hard to get something public quickly.

Curbelo is working on both an effort among the bipartisan centrist Problem Solvers and a separate effort with Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd. Curbelo has also pledged to join Democrats in only supporting government funding if it includes a DACA fix.

"At the very least, those of us who have been calling for this compromise and demanding that it get done by the end of the year should have something to show," Curbelo said last week.

A Democratic leader of the Problem Solvers Caucus, New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, said his group hopes to get their DACA deal out this week, meeting Monday night and likely to meet again Tuesday.

"Our hope is to actually get a product before we leave town this week. That's our goal, that's what we're all aiming toward," Gottheimer said.

Possible bipartisan options to pair with DACA include border security investments, adjusting the diversity lottery and a version of Kate's Law, which increases penalties on undocumented immigrants who commit violent crimes, Curbelo said.

According to a House Republican aide, the Problem Solvers and the other member-driven effort are both working with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on shaping a deal. The Problem Solvers would have a version of the Dream Act and Curbelo's Recognizing America's Children Act, which offer pathways to citizenship, paired with border security and some visa changes. The other proposal is focused more on an adjusted Dream Act with a border security investment that is not Trump's proposed border wall.

Correction: Rep. Carlos Curbelo has pledged to join Democrats in only supporting government funding if it includes a DACA fix. Rep. Will Hurd has not pledged to join that effort.