CONGRESS DEADLOCKED ON DACA AND IMMIGRATION REFORM DESPITE TRADE-OFFS ON BORDER SECURITY
Hundreds of thousands of Dreamers and their families continue to live in uncertainty in the wake of the U.S Senate’s failure to act on Thursday February 15th. Senators were unable to reach consensus on any of the bills proposed to protect Dreamers from deportation.
Three of the four bills proposed an extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program along with an expansion that would, in theory, protect approximately 1.8 million potential beneficiaries, combined with at least $25 billion dollars in additional border security measures on the other.
Two of the bills combined the extension and expansion of DACA with additional border security measures, but did not include the Trump administration’s proposed changes to legal mechanisms of immigration. One of these was introduced by the bipartisan “Common Sense Caucus” led by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Democratic Sen. Joseph Manchin of West Virginia. The other was introduced by Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, as a Senate companion bill to the bipartisan Uniting and Securing America- USA- Act introduced in the House by Reps. Will Hurd of Texas and Pete Aguilar of California.
None of the four bills that were voted on reached the minimum threshold of 60 affirmative votes required by the Senate’s rules. 60 votes would have made it possible for one of the proposed bills to be referred to the House for further action. Had one of these bills had obtained 60 votes or more, it is no guarantee that it would have been adopted- or even put up for a vote- by the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.
The Common Sense Caucus and Coons-McCain proposals were pitted against Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa’s bill which essentially adopted the Trump administration’s approach, by incorporating the extension and expansion of DACA into its proposed “four pillars”. These combine additional border security measures (including the wall) with unprecedented new restrictions on existing channels for legal immigration such as family reunification (which it refers to as “chain migration), and diversity visas, and with Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania’s amendment focused on penalizing sanctuary cities.
The Trump administration concentrated its fire against the bill supported by the Common Sense Caucus and insisted overall that no bill would be ultimately signed by the President unless it fully incorporated the four pillars approach. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued three detailed press releases on February 15th, the day the Senate voted, highlighting its arguments against the bill backed by Collins and in favor of intensified border security (including increased, accelerated removals of unaccompanied minors) and of a crack-down on sanctuary cities.
The DHS release focused on the Common Sense Caucus bill (whose lead sponsors were Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine), alleging that it provided for “mass amnesty for over 10 million illegal aliens, including criminals”, which would mean the “end of immigration enforcement in America”. It also stressed that this amounted to ignoring the “lessons of 9/11” by “significantly increas[ing] the risk of crime and terrorism”. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was among the co-sponsors of the bill, reacted angrily to the DHS statement, describing it as “over the top”, “poisonous” and “ridiculous”.
The Grassley and Coons-McCain bills also sought to address at least some of the underlying causes of migration from Mexico and Central America. In the Grassley bill this was done by seeking to tie a reinvigorated version of the Mérida Initiative focused on security and anti-drug measures at Mexico’s northern and southern borders (in section 1117 of the proposed bill) to the bill’s overall emphasis on restricting existing channels for legal immigration.
In the House (Hurd-Aguilar) version of the Coons-McCain bill support was included (in Title IV of the proposed bill) for the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in Central America’s Northern Triangle developed by the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras with technical assistance from the Inter-American Development Bank. Human rights observers and activists throughout the Northern Triangle meanwhile argue that this Plan is likely to increase both forced displacement and forced migration from the region due to its promotion of mega-development projects with devastating environmental and social effects. We will explore these issues in greater detail in future editions of Frontera Facts.
The Common Sense Caucus bill and the Toomey amendment each drew 54 votes, the largest number in favor of any of the four bills; while 52 voted in favor of Coons-McCain and only 39 in favor of the Grassley bill.
As a result it is likely, unless the administration’s political calculus shifts or a significant number of Democrats accede to the administration’s insistence on changes in legal immigration mechanisms, that no bill authorizing the extension of DACA will be approved prior to its March 5th expiration date. This arbitrary date was imposed by the Trump administration when the program was terminated in September 2017.
There is a critical window for further mobilization of support for DACA’s extension and expansion between now and March 5th. Meanwhile court challenges to DACA’s termination will continue to wind their way through the federal courts and may even be heard on an unprecedented, expedited basis by the Supreme Court if Congress fails to act in the interim.
Demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act!
Every one of the failed Senate proposals last week included trade-offs between protection of the rights of Dreamers, increased border security, Trump’s Wall, and adverse changes to the legal immigration system. No one should have to choose between safeguarding their future and violation of the rights of their parents, families, and communities.
Nearly 19,000 Dreamers have already lost protection from deportation after President Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program on September 5, 2017. Almost six months have passed and hundreds of Dreamers continue to lose protection from deportation and their ability to work everyday!
Two thirds of the American people support giving legal status to undocumented or illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Unless Congress passes legislation to permanently protect Dreamers an estimated 1,500 Dreamers will continue to lose their DACA status daily after March 5.
Call to Action!
The time to act is now! Congress has one week to stand on the right side of history before thousands of Dreamers lose protection after March 5. Call Congress this Monday February 26, and join the National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers! Demand Congress to pass a clean Dream Act and let Congress know that Dreamers are valuable members of our communities and that they should NEVER be used as bargaining chips for an anti-immigrant agenda. Protecting Dreamers is the right thing to do, it is the moral thing to do and a clean Dream Act is the only true common sense legislation that protects Dreamers.
CONGRESS DEADLOCKED ON DREAMERS, THE BORDER AND IMMIGRATION REFORM
 Under similar circumstances in 2013, then-House Speaker John Boehner refused to permit a vote on the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate by a vote of 68 to 32, pursuant to the efforts of the so-called “Gang of Eight”, which included over $40 billion for increased border security, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/us/politics/immigration-bill-clears-final-hurdle-to-senate-approval.html; Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a key supporter of this bill, voted against both the Common Sense Caucus and Coons-McCain bills this time around
 https://www.thenation.com/article/the-alliance-for-prosperity-will-intensify-the-central-american-refugee-crisis/; http://www.coha.org/the-alliance-for-prosperity-plan-a-failed-effort-for-stemming-migration/; https://nacla.org/news/2016/11/07/toward-real-prosperity