Every day Congress delays finding a fix for the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, more than 120 young people living under its protection lose the permits that allow them to legally work and stay in the country.
Despite months of calls from members of both parties to reach a deal before the end of the year, lawmakers Thursday passed a stopgap spending bill week without a solution for the 800,000 people who were brought here illegally by their parents at a young age.
The DACA program provides legal protection for them to stay and work in the United States after they turn 18.
California has the largest population of DACA recipients, about 220,000. Next is Texas, with 120,000 beneficiaries, including 7,700 who live in Tarrant County.
President Donald Trump plans to end the DACA program in March, and asked Congress to come up with a solution before then. Lawmakers plan to take up the issue when they return in January.
But in blowing through Congress’s self-imposed December 31 deadline, both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill face potential backlash because of the practical problems that arise.
Immigration experts say the ballooning number of people whose permits are expiring will likely take months to process, regardless of what solution Congress comes up with. When DACA was first created, it took the Department of Homeland Security nearly three months approve the first applications.
Nearly 13,000 DACA recipients’ permits, which can last two years, have already expired since Trump announced plans to end the program, despite the six month window that would have allowed them to renew before the March deadline.
Members of both political parties largely agree that Congress should do something to protect DACA recipients from deportation, and they’ve been furiously negotiating behind closed doors.
But a lack of clear guidelines from the White House and intraparty disagreements on both sides of the aisle have left lawmakers from both parties shouldering blame for the inaction.
Republican Senate leaders, who need to both win Democratic backing and meet Trump’s standards, say they’ll work next month on a plan that combines a solution for DACA recipients with increased border security and immigration law changes.
The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said leaders only this week started conversations with the White House about potential standards.
Lawmakers from both parties met with White House chief of staff John Kelly earlier this week, and said they expect him to soon provide an outline for what Trump is willing to sign. The White House’s most recent list of requirements included funding for a border wall, interior enforcement and major changes to current immigration law.
“I believe there is a commitment to bring up a bill on the floor in January, but a bill does not currently exist,” Cornyn told reporters. “We have a lot of work we need to do.”
Virtually no lawmakers want to see the young immigrants who were brought here at a young age deported to home countries many don’t even remember.
Members of Congress from both parties formed multiple working groups on DACA, and in a rare bit of Washington unity last month, more than two dozen House Republicans joined Democrats in demanding a solution before the end of the year.
Rep. Joe Barton was among those still pushing his party’s leaders not to leave DACA recipients without answers headed into the holidays.
“If you’re one of the DACA students you want certainty and not uncertainty,” Barton told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Having it on the President’s desk before Christmas would have ended all that.”
Democrats face their own trials over DACA.
Democrats for weeks had vowed not to leave Washington without a solution for an issue of extreme importance to the party’s base. Even as lawmakers prepared to head home Thursday afternoon, some Democrats were warning their party not to give in.
Most want a vote on the Dream Act, which gives DACA recipients a path to permanent legal status and has the support of some Republicans in both chambers. But Democrats haven’t been united on a strategy.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed to withhold support on an end of year funding bill without a DACA solution. Some Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, appeared to disagree with that strategy this week, leaving lawmakers to take it up again with the next funding bill in January.
Cornyn was among the Republicans pushing for a year-end solution. Other Senate Republicans wanted to wait, giving themselves leverage to push for bigger demands in exchange for DACA.
Cornyn said negotiations with Senate Democrats now include potential changes to chain migration — a policy that allows immigrants to get visas for their family members -- that Democratic leaders had previously balked at touching.
“I get the sense that they’d be open to nuclear families and parents but it is a complicated issue,” said Cornyn. “If we get back into comprehensive immigration reform, we’re likely to end up with nothing, which is what happened last time.”
Emma Dumain contributed to this report.