The House of Representatives has shut down for summer break with members planning to put a new immigration bill to a vote when they return — but those plans do not include a fix for DREAMers.
It’s been 10 months since Trump announced he would cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, four months since the program ended, and one month since the House tried and failed to pass a permanent fix.
Without new legislation, about 700,000 DACA recipients, who were brought to the country as children without documentation, continue to exist in legal limbo protected from deportation only by court injunctions.
House Republicans are working on an immigration bill they hope to bring to the floor in September, but that package does not include anything to help DACA recipients. Instead, it would create a temporary work program for agricultural workers, as well as mandate that employers across the country conduct citizenship checks on their employees.
There is some talk of including other immigration issues, such as addressing family separation at the border. Congress “missed a huge opportunity” by not passing a DACA fix this spring, said Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse, but he believed it is too controversial to be included in the September bill.
“What has proven not to be successful around here is when you get too many things in the same bill. It lessens its chances of passing,” he said.
Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar did win a victory for DACA defenders this week, but it is questionable how significant it will be. He proposed an amendment for this year’s Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that would ban the department from using any funds to detain or deport DACA recipients in good standing. Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee agreed to the amendment and it was approved on a bipartisan voice vote.
In theory, the amendment would offer at least a year of stability for DREAMers if passed into law. But there was skepticism about how impactful it would be. In approving the amendment, Rep. Kevin Yoder told his fellow Republicans during committee markup that it “has no practical impact since this is the status quo.”
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, one of the key GOP voices pushing for a permanent DACA fix, seemed underwhelmed by the amendments.
“These are all little band-aids, maybe messaging votes. That’s fine, I’d be more than happy to support that, but I think the focus for all members should be on a permanent fix,” he said.
It’s possible that this could be the first step toward a solution that had been long rumored but rarely acknowledged on the record — Congress renewing DACA for one or two years at a time in perpetuity.
This is widely seen as undesirable because recipients would be forced to live their lives with no long-term certainty that they would be allowed to stay and work in the US. But because it prevents mass deportations of DREAMers, and would also give Republicans regular leverage to extract border security funding, it is the type of compromise Congress tends to fall back on.
“Obviously people would like more and you’d like to provide more certainty. But to me that’s a reasonable sort of a trade-off. And once you get that habit established you could continue doing it,” said Rep. Tom Cole.
With the fall immigration agenda set, there is little chance the House takes any action on DACA before the midterms. The court challenges could keep the program on life support, and thus allow Congress to avoid making a decision, well into next year.
There is also the possibility that no immigration bill comes to the floor this year at all. House Speaker Paul Ryan originally promised a vote on the agricultural workers program to Newhouse and Rep. Dennis Ross in exchange for them not signing a discharge petition that would have overruled him and forced a series of immigration votes. They agreed, and the discharge petition failed by two signatures.
But the agriculture vote was supposed to have already happened by summer break. Ross said he will spend August trying to win over House leadership and other members. When a confused BuzzFeed News reporter said he thought the original deal committed leadership to supporting the bill, Ross said, “I did too.”
Asked if he regrets not signing the discharge petition, Ross said “Not yet. But I’m closer.”