Senate Democratic leaders will huddle secretly with immigration advocates Wednesday to find out what measures they will — and won’t —support as the clock ticks down on immigration issues that must be decided in the next 50 to 90 days, including the Obama-era policy that grants temporary legal status to immigrants brought into the country illegally as children.
Knowing that the deferred action program known as DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — could be eliminated if it ends up in court, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other leaders are expected to hold a conversation with advocates on the realities of the political fight, pressing for unity and asking if the advocates will give in on any other parts of the immigration fight in order to save DACA.
“Schumer is a good person to be meeting with right now because he has to hold his guys together to block some of this stuff that is coming from the House,” said a congressional staffer who could not speak publicly about Democratic strategy.
The Trump administration has until Sept. 5 — the same day Congress returns from its August recess — to decide if the administration will phase out DACA or risk a court challenge by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and nine other states.
DACA is the biggest of a number of immigration decisions looming over the Trump administration, all with September deadlines — including whether to renew temporary protective status for nationals of Somalia and Yemen, whether to demand funding for the border wall and whether to continue an immigrant investor program that the sister of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, controversially used to court Chinese investors.
There is absolutely no appetite for immigrants being traded off each other or issues being traded off each other.
Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America's Voice Education Fund
Schumer said Senate Democrats will do everything they can to protect DACA.
“Dreamers seek to work, study, and contribute to their communities and represent the best of America,” Schumer said. “The Senate Democrats will fight tooth and nail to preserve this program and hold the president to his promise to maintain it.”
The Department of Homeland Security wouldn’t offer any clues into the decision-making, but Homeland Security spokeswoman Joanne Talbot said the DACA program is under review, reiterating that President Trump has spoken of the need to “handle the issue with compassion and with heart.”
Talbot added that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also recognizes that Congress is the only entity that can provide a long-term solution for the issue through legislation.
Yet there’s little discussion between the parties on Capitol Hill, with Trump accusing the Democrats of being obstructionists and Democrats accusing the Trump administration and Republicans of creating an unworkable, toxic environment focused on removing people.
Members will be working over the next several weeks to develop a strategy before leaving for the August break, with a special focus this week and next on House speaker Paul Ryan to see whether he’ll speak in favor of DACA recipients, as he has before.
Despite the administration’s assurances that those brought to the country illegally as children are not a priority for removal actions, Trump’s immigration directives have left little room for students and their families to feel safe. Trump and Republican leaders have said the roughly 800,000 immigrants currently protected by the DACA program shouldn’t be concerned, but those statements appear inconsistent with Trump’s executive orders and implementation memos that dismiss the idea of protected classes of immigrants and expand the definition of who is considered a criminal.
Advocates point to recently leaked memos from U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement, obtained by ProPublica, that direct the nation’s 5,700 deportation agents to immediately “take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.”
Kelly likely will be pressed on the issue Wednesday at a separate meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that, as of Tuesday afternoon, had not been publicly announced.
Some Republicans have already threatened a budget shutdown if the border wall is not funded. But immigration advocates say Republicans are struggling to get support for funding for the controversial border wall from their own members. Advocates don’t see a need to make concessions on the wall to save DACA.
Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America's Voice Education Fund, an immigration advocacy group, called it “political suicide” for the Republican Party to target one of the most sympathetic groups of immigrants — children unknowingly brought here by their parents.
“There is absolutely no appetite for immigrants being traded off each other or issues being traded off each other,” she said.
Fears that DACA could be eliminated by the courts grew after a district judge and an appellate court ruled that former President Barack Obama overstepped his executive authority when he tried to expand the eligible population via another program known as DAPA — Deferred Actions for Parents of Americans — that also lengthened the work permits to three years.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s decision in a split decision.
The Trump administration rescinded the DAPA policy last month, but said that DACA would remain in effect for the time being. Paxton, the Texas attorney general, pressed the administration to go further, warning that if the 2012 program isn’t ended, he and the other plaintiffs from the 2014 lawsuit would take the case back to court.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who as a senator was a staunch opponent of DACA, praised the states who threatened to sue the administration in a June 30 interview with Fox and Friends.
“The DAPA law has already been withdrawn,” Sessions said, when asked what changes could be coming. “That was a big victory, and we'll be looking at that. But I've got to tell you, I like it that our states and localities are holding the federal government to account, expecting us to do what is our responsibility to the state and locals, and that's to enforce the law.”