- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Most members of Congress seem to agree that young adult illegal immigrant Dreamers will get full permanent legal status.

But how they get to that point was far less clear Tuesday after President Trump revoked the Obama-era amnesty that protected about 800,000 Dreamers from deportation over the past five years. He also set a six-month deadline for phasing out the program and for Congress to act.

Democrats moved quickly to gain the upper hand in the immigration debate, saying only full legal status for Dreamers will do. One key Democrat threatened a potential government shutdown unless Congress approves a down payment by adding a temporary halt to deportations to the stopgap spending bill, which needs approval by Sept. 30.

Republicans were far more divided over their options. Some vowed to work with Democrats on a quick fix, and others said any legal status for Dreamers must be part of a broader deal that also improves border security and immigration enforcement.

Mr. Trump said he thinks Congress is eager to fulfill its duty.

“I have a love for these people, and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly,” the president said. “I can tell you, speaking to members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right.”

The White House signaled that it wanted any congressional action on Dreamers to be coupled with funding for his proposed border wall.

“I don’t think that the president’s been shy about the fact that he wants a wall. And certainly it’s something that he feels is an important part of a responsible immigration reform package,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

That was a nonstarter, though, for most Democrats. They said the only legislation they will accept is the Dream Act — from which the Dreamers take their name. The Dream Act would grant immediate legal status and a long-term path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who have worked toward a high school education and kept a mostly clean criminal record.

The Dream Act was close to passing in a lame-duck session of Congress in 2010, having cleared the House, but was derailed by a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate.

Activists said the politics have changed since then, with Dreamers now ensconced in American society and the economy. If the bill came to the floor for a vote now, they said, it would pass.

“Make no mistake: History is on our side, and it is my sincere hope Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan allow us to swiftly vote on a bill that enshrines legal protections for our Dreamers without any unrelated provisions or poison pills,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Congress will act — though they detailed different sets of priorities.

“This Congress will continue working on securing our border and ensuring a lawful system of immigration that works,” Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. Ryan said Capitol Hill should prepare for a broad immigration debate that includes permanent status for Dreamers and steps up enforcement to try to stop more waves of illegal immigration.

“It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country,” he said.

Groups that want stricter immigration enforcement said Congress needs to follow through on border and interior security before trying legalization — and go beyond funding for a border wall.

“In 1986, we traded enforcement for amnesty, and the result was 12 million illegal aliens,” said Rosemary Jenks, government relations manager at NumbersUSA, referring to the Reagan-era amnesty that legalized millions of illegal immigrants but failed to follow up with border security or work-site enforcement.

Ms. Jenks said E-Verify, the government’s voluntary program for checking potential hires’ legal work status, must be mandatory — and must come before legalization.

She said Congress also must limit the number of people who can be sponsored by Dreamers for future immigration. Otherwise, she sad, an amnesty for 750,000 people can quickly turn into 3 million legal immigrants.

A growing contingent of Republicans said they should quickly approve some legal status. Rep. Mike Coffman, Colorado Republican, announced a petition drive Tuesday to force a floor vote on his Bridge Act, which would stave off deportations for Dreamers for three years.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said he believes the time is ripe to revive the broad legalization debate that last snared Congress in 2013.

“I will be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to devise and pass comprehensive immigration reform, which will include the Dream Act,” he said.

But his longtime legislative partner, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said Congress doesn’t have time for that big debate and needs to work quickly to protect the Dreamers.

“We don’t have that luxury right now,” he said.

Mr. Graham is one of the chief sponsors of the Dream Act, along with Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. They said they want a bill approved by the end of September.

But that doesn’t sound likely, based on the agenda Mr. McConnell laid out as he convened the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, welcoming lawmakers back from a long summer vacation. Instead, his priorities were approving emergency relief for Hurricane Harvey, tackling a big tax code overhaul, dealing with the annual defense policy bill, raising the government’s debt ceiling and keeping federal agencies funded into the next fiscal year.

Still, an initial skirmish could come this month when Congress must pass legislation to keep the government open into fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, said he won’t support any funding bill that doesn’t include a “safe harbor” provision protecting Dreamers from deportation. He said he is rallying other Democrats to that stance.

If Republicans are counting on Democrats’ votes to get a spending bill passed by the end of this month, Republicans will have to accept protections.

“I have already spoken with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and will be talking to other Democrats in the House, but if Republicans need our votes, we need to have legislation to protect immigrant youths who have DACA,” Mr. Gutierrez said.


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