Government Shutdown Is Over, But DACA and 'Dreamers' Are Still in Limbo
The federal government shutdown has come to an end, but the debate on Capitol Hill over the fate of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children has not.
Democrats backed plans to reopen the government after Senate Republicans promised to consider legislation that resolves the status of young undocumented immigrants popularly known as "Dreamers," who are protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
Heading into the shutdown that began early Saturday morning, Democrats wanted to pass permanent protections for immigrants shielded under DACA, an Obama-era program that grants an estimated 700,000 young immigrants permits that allow them to legally work and stay in the country.
Because Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, votes on spending bills provide rare opportunities for Democrats to exert leverage. The spending bills require 60 votes to pass the Senate, so the 52 Republicans did not have enough votes to keep the government open, or to re-open it, on their own.
Democrats went into the shutdown demanding some sort of immigration deal in exchange for their votes, but eventually backed down as the shutdown moved into a third full day. Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, warned that a prolonged shutdown would lower the prospects of a bipartisan agreement.
It's now evident that this filibuster is doing nothing to generate bipartisan progress on issues that Americans care about. Every day we spend arguing about keeping the lights on is another day we cannot spend negotiating DACA, defense, or any of our other shared priorities.— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) January 22, 2018
The chances of such a deal happening without another shutdown should become clear soon. The continuing resolution that Congress passed and allows the government to reopen expires on Feb. 8.
"The Republican majority now has 17 days to prevent the Dreamers from being deported," said U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democrat in the Senate.
Not all the Democrats are convinced that McConnell will keep his word.
The Majority Leader's comments fell far short of the ironclad guarantee I needed to support a stopgap spending bill. I refuse to put the lives of nearly 700,000 young people in the hands of someone who has repeatedly gone back on his word.— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) January 22, 2018
A Ticking Clock
President Donald Trump rescinded DACA in September, ordering Congress to find a legislative solution by March 5 when the program in its current form had been slated to end. In the months since, the White House has rejected several bipartisan proposals from lawmakers.
But the March 5 cutoff is not certain at this point. A federal judge in California has temporarily blocked the Trump administration's plan to end DACA. The Trump administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to immediately rescind the judge's decision to restore the program.
Amid the uncertainty, Republican leaders have promised to consider some kind of immigration bill by February 8, the day the continuing resolution expires. Some DACA recipients and immigration advocates are fearful that nothing will happen soon.
The potential impact on schools is significant.
The Washington-based Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 9,000 undocumented, DACA-protected teachers work in U.S. schools. In addition, millions of U.S.-born students in the nation's schools are the children of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are DACA recipients.
"For the Dreamers, the waiting game continues. The long nights of not knowing what the future holds continue. The job insecurity continues," Gustavo Torres, the executive director of CASA, a Maryland-based immigration advocacy and assistance organization, said in a statement.
"We will keep up our fight, more resolute than ever, because for all Dreamers this is a fight for their lives."
Photo Credit: Alexis Montes Torres, a Houston teacher, is among the more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants currently shielded from deportation and eligible to work legally under the deferred action policy.