Prospects are dim that a short-term patch that would extend a program protecting about 690,000 “Dreamers” from deportation will be included in the upcoming fiscal 2018 spending bill.
Conversations remain ongoing between Congress and the White House on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, with some aides insisting a last-minute deal is a possibility. President Donald Trump wants to end the Obama administration program, but federal judges have blocked him and Dreamers brought to the United States illegally as children are in limbo.
Optimism is low that Democrats, Republicans and the Trump administration will come to agreement on any DACA provisions before current government funding expires after midnight Friday. Other appropriations issues related to the Homeland Security Department, including the amount allocated for more detention beds, are also unresolved.
The administration offered several proposals to Democrats over the weekend that included a short-term extension of DACA coupled with border wall funding, according to Marc Short, White House director of legislative affairs.
“What’s surprising is, it seems the Democrat members are unaware their leadership has rejected those offers,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
When asked whether wall funding would be necessary, Short said “absolutely.”
“The president has been clear about that from the start and I think we’ll get funding for that,” he said.
A Democratic aide confirmed that the administration proposed $25 billion in funding for the border wall along with a two-and-a-half year extension of the DACA program for current enrollees.
Senate Democrats met Tuesday with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and several said it was unlikely a DACA patch will be included in the omnibus.
“It will be hard to get to a consensus, bipartisan place on a DACA-for-wall agreement in the omnibus,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said.
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Coons said he pressed Nielsen on what areas the administration is willing to negotiate.
“The secretary did identify [the] top three priorities for legal changes around enforcement, but did not say ‘and if we got a bill including those the administration would accept it,’ ” he said.
Others expressed similar skepticism that current negotiations would result in a breakthrough.
“They had their chance,” said Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. “It’s going to be very difficult. I think they had a moment and the administration wanted to overreach and they lost what they could have had.”
Three proposals that would provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers in exchange for border wall funding fell short in the Senate last month. The spending bill is expected to be released soon, but a large number of lingering policy issues remain. Many of the “sticking spots” deal with border security, Short said.
Also unresolved is the funding level for detention beds for undocumented immigrants held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement while awaiting immigration proceedings. Congress provided funding for 39,324 detention beds as part of the fiscal 2017 omnibus.
“If there are no longer any beds, than you are required to do catch-and-release and assume that they’ll show up at some future court date. We think that that is a security risk and the Democrat position is they don’t want to fund anymore beds because they support that policy,” Short said.
The term “catch-and-release” refers to the practice of temporarily detaining an undocumented border crosser before releasing him in the U.S. to appear before an immigration judge.
“By not allowing the funding of beds, it’s in essence just endorsing the policy of [an] unfiltered flood of illegal immigration across the border. So that’s one that’s hard for us to comprehend,” Short said.
Dean DeChiaro contributed to this report.