A pitched battle is brewing in Congress over the fate of nearly 800,000 young immigrants in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that expires in spring, a fight that could hold up the year-end spending bill to keep the federal government running.
The DACA program grants work permits and protection from deportation to young, unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. About 200,000 DACA recipients live in California.
President Trump rescinded the program in September, and called on Congress to find a solution to DACA recipients' status before their permits begin expiring in early March. But so far, there’s been no congressional action.
Immigrant advocates have called on Congress to pass the "Dream Act," legislation that would create a path to permanent legal status for the young immigrants. The Trump administration has set certain demands in exchange for such a bill, including more immigration enforcement and funding for a border wall.
The advocates, along with many Democrats, are calling for a"clean" bill without immigration enforcement strings. They want Congress to provide protection for DACA recipients and others who arrived as minors but without requirements that could prompt deportation for others, including the parents of the young immigrants.
Now, the issue may be debated as part of a broad spending bill that must be passed by Dec. 8 to avoid a government shutdown. Congress could also come up with a short-term funding extension.
Some Democratic leaders are pushing to attach legislation to the spending bill that would protect the young immigrants and some Democratic lawmakers have suggested they will not support the spending bill without it.
Jorge Mario Cabrera with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, an immigrant advocacy group, hopes the dispute will force a compromise.
"Even if begrudgingly, even if Republicans have to swallow their pride, I do believe that the Dream Act will pass as part of the must-pass spending bill, and that the president will sign it," Cabrera said.
But so far, Republican leaders have insisted that DACA and the spending bill will be handled separately.
John Miano with the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank that supports greater restrictions on immigration, said he doubts the Democrats will prevail in tying DACA to the spending measure.
“I think it’s just posturing. They’re just playing for their base — it sounds good," Miano said. "The Republicans can pass the budget bill without their votes."
If there is no DACA-related legislation passed by year's end, Congress will have to take the matter up again in January. "Either there is going to be some concession, some negotiation, or nothing is going to happen," Miano said.
Cabrera with CHIRLA said while "that is what the Republicans would want, and that is what supposedly the president has indicated he wants ... the president, I believe, can be convinced otherwise. And he has to sign that spending bill."