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The program that protects thousands of undocumented immigrants is safe, for now.
On March 7, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will begin renewing permits on a two-year basis for individuals currently enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, easing some pressures on nearly 800,000 unauthorized immigrants.
DHS acted in response to two court orders instructing the agency to gear up applications, according to a statement from spokesperson Tyler Houlton. Houlton added that recipients are not “a priority or target group for arrest or removal.”
However, the future for so-called “Dreamers” has been pingponging through courts for the last few months, with several federal judges blocking the administration's attempt to tighten up immigration laws. Even the Supreme Court spiked the White House's effort to circumvent the appellate courts, though courts sided with the Trump administration Monday, giving the White House authority to shutter the DACA program. Still, the back-and-forth has rendered the March 5 — and any subsequent deadline — symbolic at best.
The White House heralded the latest judicial decision as a legislative “win” indicative of its commitment to “fix” DACA. Many have labeled the Trump administration's stance on DACA recipients as a “running out the clock” approach. Instead, administration officials are directing critics to Capitol Hill.
“I think it's absolutely terrible that Congress has failed to act,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Monday's press briefing. “The fact that they can't actually come together and get something done is pathetic and now they're using the courts as an excuse.”
The president himself singled out Democrats in a tweet on Monday, offering them a seat at the legislative negotiating table:
It’s March 5th and the Democrats are nowhere to be found on DACA. Gave them 6 months, they just don’t care. Where are they? We are ready to make a deal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2018
But even with the March 5 deadline now in the rearview mirror, Congress remains in limbo regarding any imminent fix for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants impacted by the administration's repeal of the Obama-era program last September. Lawmakers still can't decide on a permanent solution, and any attempt at a temporary extension has failed.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) tried and failed again on Tuesday to pass a stopgap plan that would legislatively extend DACA for three years in exchange for additional border security funding. With little Republican support, the bill was once again dead on arrival.
“If Congress does a temporary patch once, it'll do it 20 times again,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday, whose “no” vote quickly tanked the measure. Lankford instead pushed for a familiar goal: A permanent solution for “Dreamers.”
“[Dreamers] are looking for an actual solution. They want a sense of permanence. Their status has been in limbo since 2012. The question that we need to resolve is: Can we actually resolve this for them?” Lanford argued.
Flake promises to promote his bipartisan three-year DACA extension, which he admits isn't the “perfect solution,” until Congress agrees on a bill that would grant DACA recipients more long-term certainty.
In the House, Republicans are set to tackle DACA again next week by continuing to gauge support for an immigration bill introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), a GOP leadership aide tells IJR. But even with more member meetings on the measure scheduled, there is still nothing concrete set in motion. The bill is also already facing Republican backlash, making the potential for it to be brought up for a vote even more unlikely.
In a statement on the day the president's March 5 deadline expired, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) expressed disappointment in herself and her colleagues for not finding a bipartisan DACA solution.
“I am very disappointed that this issue remains unresolved,” she said. “A bipartisan agreement is the best path forward, and I still believe that, but we need to get this done.”
But in February, a bipartisan immigration bill failed in the Senate after months of negotiations and government spending showdowns. The bill would have provided $25 billion in border security while also granting a pathway to citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Trump, who initially said he would support any bipartisan immigration deal that Congress produced, ultimately called the bill “a total catastrophe,” adding that “voting for this amendment would be a vote AGAINST law enforcement, and a vote FOR open borders.”
There’s also a chance that the DACA debate could lead to another government shutdown, as federal spending is once again set to expire on March 23.
For now, it seems that Trump will refuse to sign a bill that doesn't contain his wishlist: construction of a border wall, elimination of chain migration, termination of the visa lottery program, and increased funding for the military. Until then, DACA recipients must re-enroll and hold their breath as the White House juggles immigration, infrastructure, national security, and potential sojourn to North Korea.