House Democrats say there’s a simple solution — for the Senate to take up their bill from last June to permanently extend the program. That bill, approved largely along party lines, was the most significant immigration bill to pass either chamber in six years, though it has since languished in the upper chamber.
Senate Republicans have said they’re willing to consider a legislative fix, but many in the caucus are also calling for a serious effort to crack down on unauthorized immigration more broadly. And they want to see reforms to visas for foreign workers.
“I do believe it would be important for us to resolve the DACA issue for those young people that are facing continued uncertainty,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who belongs to the Senate GOP’s moderate wing. “I also believe that we need to decide how we’re going to deal with the 11 million or so that are here illegally and I hope that we improve our legal system of immigration.”
But Romney added: “Whether we’re going to pass something in an election year on that topic is I think an unlikely scenario.”
The task of reaching consensus is made more difficult by Senate Republicans’ insistence that Trump give his blessing before any bill goes forward. The Trump presidency has had several flirtations with Congress on immigration policy — including two government shutdowns related to the subject — but so far nothing has come to fruition.
And Democrats are still stinging over Trump’s rejection of bipartisan legislation in 2018 that would have provided $25 billion for border security in exchange for protecting DACA recipients and their parents. Last year, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to the president and his son-in-law, tried and failed to find a bipartisan deal on asylum laws with Durbin and Graham.
During a March meeting, Trump told a group of GOP senators at the White House he wanted to wait until after the Supreme Court ruled on DACA before pursuing additional immigration reform.
Since then, Trump has publicly and privately suggested that if the court does rule in his favor, he plans to dangle the fate of the DACA program in front of Democrats in hopes of striking a broader immigration deal this summer.
“I hope that Lindsey, who actually worked with Dick Durbin to come up with a bipartisan bill, … would be able to marshal the commitment to support the DACA participants,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “However you never know with the Republicans.”
House Democrats say they’re already bracing for a scenario in which they’ll be forced to bargain with Trump.
“I’m hoping the Supreme Court does the right thing, but if not, then we have to work with the Trump administration,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), whose southern Texas district borders Mexico.
But Cuellar also acknowledged that Congress already has a lot on its plate, rattling off spending bills, coronavirus relief, a defense policy bill and a surface transportation bill.
“The calendar is so full,” Cuellar said, adding that the House’s new voting procedures to protect members’ health in the ongoing pandemic has dramatically slowed down the process of voting. “It just takes a long time to get things done.”
Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.