DACA off the table in border wall negotiations, two lawmakers say

Reps. Nita Lowey, D-New York, Kay Granger, R-Texas, and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California, are shown at a meeting of House and Senate bargainers trying to craft a border security compromise at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 30, 2019.
Reps. Nita Lowey, D-New York, Kay Granger, R-Texas, and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California, are shown at a meeting of House and Senate bargainers trying to craft a border security compromise at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 30, 2019. AP

Lawmakers working toward a border security deal have already taken one negotiating point off the table — protections for thousands of young people known as Dreamers who were brought to America as children.

According to two members of the negotiating committee, that program — DACA — is not under consideration as lawmakers try to craft a border deal that can win support in Congress and President Donald Trump’s signature, averting another government shutdown.

“To bring other issues in, it would be the president and the [House and Senate party] leaders and they haven’t done it,” Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, when asked if the committee was considering DACA as part of the negotiations. He said the group is strictly “talking about border security.”

A Democrat also at the negotiating table agreed, noting the committee is focused on appropriating funding for border security and did not intend to take any big swings on policy.

“If you look at the makeup of the conference committee, we’re all appropriators, there’s nobody from Judiciary Committee,” Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar told the Star-Telegram. “It’s just numbers, where do we put the money.”

President Trump proposed a deal to end the partial government shutdown and to help fund the border wall on Jan. 19. In exchange for the $5.7 billion for funding for the border wall, he offered temporary protections for Dreamers.

The White House and some lawmakers from both parties have been floating the possibility of using this negotiation to stop the deportation of DACA recipients. Some conservative groups lobbying for a border wall have urged Republicans could incentivize Democrats on board by swapping DACA protections for wall funding.

The 17-member panel met for the second time Wednesday to work toward an agreement they hope can pass a Democrat-controlled House, a Republican-controlled Senate, and garner support from Trump, who wants $5.7 billion for a border wall.

Protections for DACA recipients, who were brought into the country illegally as children, have long been viewed as a potential incentive to lure Democrats on board with funding for a wall their base vehemently opposes. Amid partisan gridlock that’s already caused the longest government shutdown in history, however, party leaders are instead leaning on members of the spending committees to come up with a plan to will fund the government without making major policy changes that could risk alienating the other side.

The current negotiations face plenty of disagreement over how to fund border security. But they’ve avoided discussing statutory changes both sides say could make it more difficult to pass the full House and Senate.

“It’s unfortunate that we are just myopically focusing on one aspect of border security, which is physical barriers,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, who pointed to the asylum laws for Central America as a piece he wants addressed. “This is another place Congress needs to act, and frankly, we haven’t even been talking about it.”

LULAC President Domingo Garcia describes his meeting with White House adviser Jared Kushner on a potential deal to re-open the government, Thursday, January 24, 2019.

The narrow approach, designed to avoid a major concession on Trump’s wall, is preferred by some groups on the left, including the immigrant advocacy group League of United Latin American Citizens.

But it has upset some well-funded outside groups on the right that want DACA protections, and see this month’s spending deadline as among their best shots for tackling the issue, which was once again challenged by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a federal court this week.

“With only days to negotiate, this narrow and focused package (DACA protections and border funding) has broad support from both sides of the aisle,” leaders of the LIBRE Initiative, which is funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, along with a coalition of other immigration groups, wrote to members of the committee this week.

LIBRE and others met with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to discuss such a deal last month, and has sought to arrange meetings with lawmakers on the conference committee.The White House declined to comment.

“There is no reason to wait, we can get this done now, and we stand ready to work with anyone of good-faith efforts to move this forward,” said the letter.

McClatchy White House Correspondent Franco Ordoñez contributed to this report.
Andrea Drusch is the Washington Correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She is a Corinth, Texas, native and graduate of the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University. She returns home frequently to visit family, get her fix of Fuzzy’s Tacos and cheer on the Horned Frogs.