Democrats no longer have an incentive to give Republicans concessions in the ongoing immigration debate on Capitol Hill.
Money for Donald Trump’s border wall in exchange for a DACA solution? No chance.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients have been spared from deportation — for now — by a federal court order, giving Democrats the space to attack Republican-controlled Washington for failing to broker a DACA solution without getting blamed for inaction if deportations were to begin.
“Should we give a border wall for nothing? No, I don’t think so,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. “There’s not a whole lot of reasons to negotiate, to do anything that is not already covered by the court decision.”
Pelosi’s comments on Thursday were in stark contrast to the way Democrats talked about DACA a few months ago, when Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., said, “I'll go down there with bricks and mortar and begin the wall” if it would lead to a solution for DACA recipients. Just six weeks ago Pelosi gave the longest speech in the history of the House of Representatives, urging Democrats to reject a spending bill because it didn’t contain a permanent solution for DACA recipients.
But that was before a March 5 DACA deadline was rendered largely meaningless by the courts.
“While I’m happy that the DACA folks have a little bit of breathing space … the flipside of that is people have less incentive to risk it to do real negotiations,” said Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who has been talking to Democrats, House leadership and President Donald Trump in recent months to find a DACA solution. “I think this process works on pressure and deadlines and so that hasn’t been helpful in that sense. Again, I’m relieved for the folks, but we need to find a long-term solution and right now I will tell you that momentum is kind of gone, but it’s going to come.”
DACA, created by President Barack Obama, allows certain young immigrants to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation. Trump announced last year that he would not renew the program, but the Supreme Court declined to hear a fast-tracked appeal by the Justice Department that could have ended the program last month, putting its status in limbo.
Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has said several times in recent weeks that Congress works best under pressure, and the momentum to strike a deal is lost without a deadline that leads to negative consequences like deporting immigrants or a government shutdown.
“I have mixed feelings on what it means for us here because we know this institution [Congress] sometimes only works as deadlines approach and now there isn’t a deadline,” Curbelo said. “Now, on the other hand, it gives us more time, especially here in the House, to work towards that consensus position that has eluded both the House and Senate.”
Plus, Congress is currently fixated on a national debate about gun control after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
One idea that’s gained some momentum in recent days is a proposal known as “queen of the hill,” which would circumvent House leadership and bring four different immigration bills to the House floor for a vote.
The four bills include a conservative proposal championed by House leadership, which faces universal opposition from Democrats and a few dozen Republicans, the DREAM Act, which would put DACA recipients on a path to citizenship, a compromise immigration bill by Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., and a bill chosen by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Whichever of the four bills gets the most votes beyond a simple majority, wins. The “queen of the hill” proposal has the support of Curbelo and Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Pelosi expressed optimism for the idea on Thursday.
“It would be queen of the hill, whoever wins most, wins best,” Pelosi said. “That might be an opportunity.”
But backroom negotiations to broker a bigger deal appear to be on hold, as long as the courts don’t force the issue.
“If that stays in place then for Republicans they missed their opportunity to exploit the issue,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. “Because of that [court] stay I think there’s some convenience involved because people don’t have to deal with it in the immediacy … but what it has also done is created an opportunity for some compromise.”
Complicating matters for Republicans is Trump’s inability to martial Republican support for his immigration ideas. The U.S. Senate introduced legislation based on Trump’s immigration proposal in February, but it received only 39 votes, well short of the 60 needed to pass the upper chamber.
“I think that Trump and his administration and certainly leadership … have made this a primary issue and they feel that is a vital issue to their base,” Grijalva said. “So I think they’ll continue to make it an issue all the way up through November. So there’s an opportunity for compromise, I think that door is open, but there’s also an opportunity to ignore it, play it out and let the politics define it, which I think is not good.”