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Republicans And Democrats Seek Path To DACA Deal In Coming Weeks

People who call themselves DREAMers protest in front of the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol to urge Congress in passing a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, on December 6, 2017, in Washington, D.C.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
People who call themselves DREAMers protest in front of the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol to urge Congress in passing a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, on December 6, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

The DREAM Act has failed to pass when Democrats have held complete control of government; when Republicans have held all the cards; and in periods when the two parties have split control of the White House, Senate and House.

But lawmakers from both parties hope to secure permanent legal status for people protected by the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals , or DACA, program and they are trying to achieve some sort of solution over the next two weeks.

DACA is set to expire in early March, but most advocates agree that the upcoming Jan. 19 government funding deadline is likely the best remaining window to cut a deal that grants some sort of permanent protection to the roughly 700,000 DACA enrollees — people in the country illegally who entered the U.S. as children.

Whether or not something passes will likely hinge on two key questions: How far Democrats are willing go to force a vote, and whether President Trump will compromise on his demands for a border wall.

In order to get a bill on the House and Senate floors, Democrats may have to embrace a position that many party leaders aren't too comfortable with: brinkmanship over a government shutdown in order to achieve their goal.

Democrats opted not to play that card in the days before Christmas, when the last government funding deadline came, went and was solved by a short-term resolution keeping things running through mid-January. That frustrated activist groups like United We Dream, which branded Senate Democrats who voted for the continuing resolution as the "Deportation Caucus."

It's a criticism President Trump latched onto in recent days, tweeting that "Democrats are doing nothing for DACA — just interested in politics." He went on to predict that "DACA activists and Hispanics" will start "falling in love with" Trump and the GOP — a prediction that ignores the fact that it was Trump who set the early March expiration date for the program in order to force congressional action. It's also not clear how Trump could have DACA activists love him while holding onto his base, some of whom burned their "Make America Great Again" hats when Trump broached a possible deal on the program with Democrats last year.

Since Trump announced in September that the DACA program would be ending, Democrats have repeatedly and loudly called for a fast-tracked vote to make it permanent. "[Republicans] are saying, 'well, we can wait until March,'" House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in December. "Well, we can't. And as I said to them, that is an act of cruelty to say you can wait until March when people are losing their status every day."

But, so far, they haven't used the leverage Trump handed them in September, when he agreed to a government funding deal that expired at the end of 2017.

It's still not clear whether they'll use it in January. It's also not clear what Trump would want to see in a final immigration deal.

In early September, it seemed like Trump, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had struck the broad outlines of a deal: trade a permanent DACA fix for increased border security that would not include Trump's signature campaign promise of a coast-to-coast wall on the southern border with Mexico.

But that infuriated immigration hard-liners like Rep. Steve King, R- Iowa. "I know the people that were strong Trump supporters, that were on his bandwagon early on," King said after the preliminary deal was made public. "They came on board because: build a wall, enforce the border, enforce immigration law, no amnesty ever. And if they see amnesty coming out of the White House, then that's the one thing that will crack his base."

So Trump quickly backtracked, insisting his wall would have to be part of any deal.

About a month later, the White House added to those demands, saying any agreement would also have to include major changes to legal immigration policies as well. Trump wants to swap policies that prioritize family ties, often referred to as "chain migration," for a system that emphasizes the skills individual immigrants would bring to the country. That's a shift Democrats say they won't support.

Negotiators have two weeks to figure out a deal — and perhaps just as importantly, Trump has two weeks to figure out what he'll demand.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.