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Dreamers-for-wall trade going nowhere in House

The Hill logo The Hill 3 days ago Rafael Bernal

a group of people standing in front of a building: Dreamers-for-wall trade going nowhere in House © Greg Nash Dreamers-for-wall trade going nowhere in House A deal to reopen the government by trading border wall funding for immigration benefits for so-called Dreamers doesn't stand a chance in the House, according to legislators on both sides of the aisle.

House Democrats say they don't trust President Trump to keep his end of any bargain, and are wary of negotiating a deal that could benefit those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while throwing other undocumented immigrants under the bus.

"Many of us, Democrats and Republicans, want to find a solution to this, and the White House has never been supportive of that," said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), a moderate who worked out a Dreamers-for-wall deal with Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) last summer.

That bill would have granted a path to citizenship to Dreamers both within and outside DACA in exchange for technological and manpower investments in border security, but no wall construction.

The Hurd-Aguilar bill, which lacked the support of GOP leadership, never made it to the floor.

Aguilar ruled out even preliminary cross-aisle negotiations while the partial government shutdown is in effect.

"If Republicans want to have conversations, we're always happy to, and you know that I will continue to have conversations with Republicans about a long-term solution to this. But we can't negotiate while the government is shut down, period," he said.

Meanwhile, the GOP refuses to join in government spending talks without some amount of wall funding on the table.

"There is no Democrat that is willing to give any money for a border barrier initiative, any substantial other than a dollar, for a border barrier initiative, so why have the discussion?" asked Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and a close ally of President Trump.

About a quarter of the federal government has been shut down since Dec. 22, as Trump has demanded $5.7 billion for construction of barriers along the border, and Democrats in Congress have refused to grant it.

GOP senators, most recently Rob Portman (Ohio) and Jerry Moran (Kan.), have proposed measures similar to the Hurd-Aguilar compromise in an effort to end the shutdown, which on Saturday became the longest in modern U.S. history.

But Democrats, fresh off a big electoral win in November, say their base won't accept such a deal now.

"Every time that we've been [down this road], people on the ground they get their hopes up and they think that maybe there's an answer there, but this time people are staying pretty firm," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), an immigrant rights activist and co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

"They do not trust this president, they do not think that there's a real deal to be had, number one, and number two, they know that if there was a deal, because of everything he's done and everything he's said, that it would include some really terrible things," she added.

And the shutdown itself has become a core dividing issue, beyond debate over the wall itself.

"At this point, the tactic they're using is so illegitimate we wouldn't use it for anything they're asking," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a freshman lawmaker and rising progressive star.

"Just the idea that they're holding people's paychecks hostage and throwing a tantrum, I don't care if they wanted an ice cream cone, we're not going to give it to them," she said.

Republicans, on the other hand, view Democratic leadership as hypocritical for refusing to grant Trump's border wall request, which they see as similar to past bipartisan border security bills.

"In the scope of things, we're not talking about a big chunk of money. We're talking about concepts that even the folks that are now saying it's a moral issue to not do, they've supported it in writing, and with votes, and with signing up to discharge petitions," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who's played a key role in previous immigration reform negotiations.

Centrist Republicans are frustrated that negotiations have broken down.

Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), who early on in last year's border-for-Dreamers negotiations supported a bipartisan deal, said the negotiators are blowing an opportunity.

"These parties that are involved, and it really seems like it boils down to the House and the Senate Democratic leadership and the president - this is an opportunity I think for Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer that they're just blowing," said Thompson.

"I think there's all kinds of opportunities here for things ... even just focused and related to immigration, that you could put together," he added.

Republicans have said they're unwilling to back a bill to reopen the government that doesn't have the support of Trump, who has indicated he'll veto anything without wall funding included.

"Can you find any Democrat in leadership that's willing to talk about any significant amount of money for a wall? Period. Whether DACA is included or not. When you find them, then we'll have a discussion about it," Meadows said.

And the White House has pulled away from the idea of trying to intertwine Dreamers and the wall.

Vice President Pence Thursday said the administration won't consider a DACA-for-wall deal, as administration officials believe the Obama-era program won't survive a challenge before the Supreme Court, though the constitutionality of DACA has so far not been successfully challenged in court.

Andrew Hanen, a South Texas judge who in 2015 ruled against a DACA expansion as well as a partner program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), had the opportunity to rule against DACA as a whole in August, but refused to do so.

Trump rescinded DACA in September 2017 and gave Congress six months to enact replacement legislation. Congress failed to come to an agreement, but Trump's order was swiftly challenged in the courts, and a 9th Circuit decision ultimately forced the Department of Homeland Security to continue issuing DACA benefits to new applicants.

Given DACA's success in court so far, some Democrats are flummoxed by the administration's bullish attitude toward a favorable judicial resolution.

"Maybe they realized that people weren't going to take a deal, and so to get involved in a big lengthy negotiation around some ephemeral deal that never actually turns out to be something that Democrats could accept," said Jayapal.

Some Republicans are dismayed that the administration would seek a court victory rather than a legislative agreement.

"I don't agree with that perspective, even though I'm a huge friend and fan of the vice president. I'm tired of the courts dictating public policy. It's the legislative branch, let's exercise our responsibilities on this," said Thompson.

Ocasio-Cortez said "the administration is grasping at straws."

"I don't know if it's because they're trying to cover for the fact that they can't even offer that - we're going to reject it. We're not going to exchange DACA for a wall. We're not going to save one part of a family to expend another part. We're not going to separate families. They know we're not going to separate families, they know we're not going to tolerate that deal and right now they're just grasping for an excuse to not offer it because they know we're going to reject it," she said.

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