WASHINGTON — With a federal government shutdown looming, congressional leaders met with top White House officials late Wednesday in search of an agreement that could keep the government open and provide a long-term solution for thousands of young people whose immigration status is in flux.
The meeting of top Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate, as well as White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, did not produce a deal. But the GOP participants issued a statement afterward saying they hoped ongoing discussions would yield an agreement “soon.” If an agreement isn’t reached by Jan. 19 the federal government will partially shut down.
“It is important that we achieve a two-year agreement that funds our troops and provides for our national security and other critical functions of the federal government,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a joint statement with the White House after the meeting. “It also remains important that members of Congress do not hold funding for our troops hostage for immigration policy.”
Democrats — including those in New Mexico’s congressional delegation — have been pushing Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, to include in any spending deal a provision to provide permanent legal status for roughly 800,000 young people whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally as children. About 7,000 of these so-called “dreamers” — or participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — reside in New Mexico.
President Donald Trump rescinded the Obama-era DACA program in September and said it was the responsibility of Congress to make it permanent through legislation. Under Trump’s order, the DACA program expires on March 5. Dreamers who have not received federal extensions under DACA will be subject to deportation if the program is not renewed.
On Tuesday U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the White House and Trump are open to the possibility of not only making DACA permanent for dreamers and allowing them to remain in the U.S. legally, but also including a path to citizenship.
“I think he’s open to hearing about the different possibilities and what it means but, to my knowledge, there certainly hasn’t been any decision from the White House,” Nielsen said.
Trump has said he won’t sign a permanent DACA bill into law unless Congress also sends him legislation to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. On Wednesday, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway reiterated the president’s view in an interview on Fox News.
“There is no DACA without funding for the wall,” Conway said.
Congressional Democrats fiercely oppose the construction of a border wall.
“It’s shameful for the president to use them (DACA recipients) as a bargaining chip to try and build an unnecessary, ineffective and immoral border wall,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said Wednesday.
In late December, Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a New Mexico Democrat who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, both voted against a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open until Jan. 19 because it didn’t include a provision to address the DACA issue. Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., both support a permanent DACA fix but voted for the short-term spending bill in the Senate reasoning that voting against it would harm New Mexico.
Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican who represents New Mexico’s border, also voted for the stopgap spending measure in late December. Pearce has introduced legislation that would give DACA recipients a chance to remain in the country lawfully for 10 years with an option to renew their legal status after a decade. Some Democrats contend the bill doesn’t go far enough and that a permanent fix is imperative.
On Wednesday, Pearce said there are “many moving parts” to negotiations over the looming government shutdown, but he is pushing his DACA bill as a “middle-ground solution.” Pearce has said he opposes Trump’s proposal to build a border wall.
“I think threats to shut down the government over a DACA fix are unwise and create more problems than solutions,” Pearce said. “That said, our nation’s immigration system is broken. If common-sense corrections can be made to the immigration system while fixing DACA, then that is something I will work with my colleagues on.”
Lujan Grisham told the Journal on Wednesday that “nobody wants a government shutdown” and she senses that Republicans are softening on the issue of a DACA deal. Pearce and Lujan Grisham are both running for governor of New Mexico in 2018.
“It is clear that more of the Republican leadership is ready to deal with a DACA fix,” Lujan Grisham said Wednesday night.
She said it’s possible that an eventual agreement will include a government spending deal, a permanent DACA solution and possibly some border security enhancements that stop short of a wall.
“While neither side will get exactly what they want…there are pieces of legislation that are ready that have broad bipartisan support,” she said, referring to various border security proposals. ___
This article is written by Michael Coleman from Albuquerque Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.