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Immigration Deal's Chances Slip as Trump and Democrats Dig In

Image: Immigration Deal's Chances Slip as Trump and Democrats Dig In
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Monday, 05 February 2018 08:02 AM

Chances for an immigration deal in Congress are dimming as Republicans and Democrats pull further apart and President Donald Trump threatens to walk away from any agreement that doesn't meet his demands.

The House and Senate return this week with only one major item on their agendas: Voting on another short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown after Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he'll allow floor debate and votes on immigration legislation if Democrats vote to fund the government and refrain from the kind of confrontation that led to a three-day shutdown last month.

The time until the next funding deadline, possibly as long as six weeks, leaves an opening to consider competing immigration proposals, but success is far from assured. And every delay allows positions to harden and pushes debate on a politically polarizing issue — how to resolve the fate of some 1.8 million young people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children — closer to the campaign season for congressional elections.

"'I think the prospects have always been extremely low," Adam Jentleson, a former aide to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, said of an immigration deal. "'I don't think they're looking too good at the moment."

Family Sponsorships

Trump's proposal to significantly restrict family sponsorship for immigrants in exchange for a path to citizenship for those covered by the soon-to-end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, has emerged as a major obstacle for Democrats.

His State of the Union address last week, despite its entreaties for bipartisanship, ended up enraging immigration activists by closely linking immigrants — both legal and undocumented arrivals — with crime and terrorism.

Now the pressure is on Democrats to reject Trump's plan.

Trump's remarks "'demonizing undocumented immigrants" suggests the "'White House isn't serious about helping dreamers," said Ben Wikler, the Washington director of the liberal activist group MoveOn.org, referring to the young immigrants in the DACA program.

'False Choice'

"'Trump keeps advancing a radical anti-immigrant agenda that is dead on arrival," Wikler said, calling the president's offer a "'blood-curdling false choice" between helping families or immigrants who've been in the U.S. since they were children.

Trump's proposal would eliminate the ability of Americans to sponsor siblings, parents, and adult or married children for green cards, which all but guarantee citizenship. He and his Republican allies call it "'chain migration." His other conditions — more money for border security and an end to a visa lottery program — are less contentious.

It remains unclear, however, if any legalization program for undocumented people can win a majority of House Republicans.

Trump's speech "'makes it harder to reach a deal, but I already thought they didn't have a chance," said Doug Heye, a former House GOP leadership aide who worked on immigration during the debate in 2013 and 2014. "'I guess the impossible got harder."

Democratic Base

Heye primarily faults Democrats for overplaying their hand and "'demanding the impossible" rather than accepting Trump's offer, which he describes as reasonable. "'I think this is a deal they should take. But the reality is that it doesn't appear that Chuck Schumer's base is going to allow him to take it," he said, referring to the New York Democrat and Senate minority leader.

"'They don't want to cut a deal that makes Donald Trump the great dealmaker," Heye said.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the lead Democratic negotiator in the immigration talks, said Sunday on CNN that he doesn't expect the standoff to lead to a government shutdown this week. "'But I do see a promise by Senator McConnell to finally bring this critical issue that affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in America, finally bringing it to a full debate in the Senate."

Jentleson said the current deadlock is similar to what he saw in 2013, when he worked to shepherd a bipartisan immigration overhaul through the Senate, only to watch it die in the Republican-led House.

House Roadblocks

"'It's not impossible to see a deal that can get to 60 votes in the Senate. But if you do that you've essentially closed off your prospects of passage of a deal through the House," he said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan "'won't allow a vote on something unless it's acceptable to the Freedom Caucus," he added, referring to a group of conservative Republicans. "'And whatever's acceptable to the Freedom Caucus can never get Democratic votes."

Trump still can break the impasse, said Michael Steel, who worked for former Republican Speaker John Boehner during the 2013-2014 immigration debate.

"'President Trump has unparalleled credibility with the GOP base on this issue, so if wants a deal — and he says he does — Congress can get it done," he said in an email. "'He just has to be clear, consistent, and slightly flexible on what it will include."

'Nothing at All'

Trump showed signs of losing his patience with the negotiations and willingness to leave the issue unresolved.

"'We'll either have something that's fair and equitable and good and secure, or we're going to have nothing at all," he told Republican lawmakers last Thursday at their legislative retreat in West Virginia.

Returning to the subject the next day, he said a deal on DACA "'could very well not happen" by March 5, the date he set to end the program. He accused Democrats of bargaining in bad faith to gain an electoral advantage.

"'We want to make a deal. I think they want to use it for political purposes, for elections," he said Friday at the Customs and Border Protection National Targeting Center in Reston, Virginia. "'I really am not happy with the way it's going from the standpoint of the Democrats negotiating."

Two Big Deadlines

Deadlines ahead for Congress could further complicate getting an agreement. In addition to the stopgap spending bill being brought up this week, the federal debt limit will have to be raised by the end of February or early March to avoid a U.S. default. Democrats and Republicans also have yet to agree on a budget plan that would raise existing spending caps for defense and domestic programs for the rest of the fiscal year.

Democrats, who have leverage to hold up legislation in the narrowly divided Senate, have threatened to put off a budget accord until a DACA deal is reached.

Looming in the background of the negotiations are the November midterm elections. History, fundraising and polls indicate Democrats have the potential to take control of the House. Immigration activists say that could dramatically change the debate.

"'Republicans know full well that as Democrats gain seats and perhaps legislative chambers, their ability to get concessions for Dreamer protections that majorities in both parties support will vanish," Wikler of MoveOn said. "'So if I were the Republicans I'd want to get this behind me as soon as possible."

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Chances for an immigration deal in Congress are dimming as Republicans and Democrats pull further apart and President Donald Trump threatens to walk away from any agreement that doesn't meet his demands.
trump, immigration, democrats, daca, dela
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2018-02-05
Monday, 05 February 2018 08:02 AM
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