Senate Showdown on DACA Set for Today

As part of the deal to end the recent government shutdown, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to take up legislation this week to fix DACA. Today there will be cloture votes on four amendments. At this point, it is assumed that none of them have the 60 votes for passage. Here is a brief summary of the bills in the order they will be considered:

McCain-Coons

  • Grants eventual citizenship to young undocumented immigrants who have been in the country since 2013 and came to the US as children
  • Greenlights a study of border security needs
  • Addresses the number of undocumented immigrants staying in the US by increasing the number of resources for the immigration courts

Toomey

  • This bill has nothing to do with DACA, but the title tells you all you need to know: “Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act”
  • It is nothing more than pure election-year politics to trap Democrats and allow Republicans to create ads like the one Ed Gillespie used against Ralph Northam

Rounds-King

  • Provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers
  • Prevents green card holders from sponsoring their adult children to immigrate to the U.S.
  • Provides $25 billion for the wall and border security
  • Instructs ICE not to focus on unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. without criminal records

That last item deserves a bit more explanation.

The bill would codify “enforcement priorities” for the Department of Homeland Security (including Immigration and Customs Enforcement). It would tell agents to focus on immigrants convicted of felonies, and those who enter the US after June 30, 2018. This would be the first time since the establishment of ICE as an independent agency in 2003 that a law would dictate whom agents should focus on, and would put much stricter restrictions on ICE than the ones agents chafed under during the Obama administration (and which Trump famously removed while in office). It wouldn’t prohibit ICE from deporting unauthorized immigrants without criminal records who’ve lived in the US for a while, but it would, at least in theory, push those immigrants way down on the enforcement agenda.

Grassley

  • Basically includes the Trump administration framework

I’d like to point out what is not on that list: (1) a stand-alone Dream Act (which is what the Dreamers support), or (2) comprehensive immigration reform such as the bill that passed the Senate in 2013.

What did make the cut are two partisan Republican-only bills (Toomey and Grassley) and two bipartisan compromises (McCain-Coons and Rounds-King). I suppose that because McConnell has a Senate majority, he feels free to weight the debate in the Republican’s direction. He has also placed the Trump administration’s framework last on the list, knowing that the bipartisan bills are unlikely to reach the 60 vote threshold. That applies the pressure of, “if you want to fix DACA, this is your last chance.”

As we approach votes on these bills, the White House has delegated the job of advocacy on them to the Department of Homeland Security. Over the last two days, they have issued seven press releases related to the upcoming Senate vote.

  • Two of them are in support of the partisan Republican bills
  • Two of them attack the bipartisan compromise bills
  • Three of them speak to particular items in the Trump administration framework

It is worth noting that DHS reserved the most vitriol and fear-mongering for the bill that might come closest to actually passing—the one authored by Rounds and King.

The Schumer-Rounds-Collins proposal destroys the ability of the men and women from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to remove millions of illegal aliens. It would be the end of immigration enforcement in America and only serve to draw millions more illegal aliens with no way to remove them.  By halting immigration enforcement for all aliens who will arrive before June 2018, it ignores the lessons of 9/11 and significantly increases the risk of crime and terrorism.

It is an egregious violation of the four compromise pillars laid out by the President’s immigration reform framework. Instead of helping to secure the border as the President has repeatedly asked Congress to do, it would do the exact opposite and make our border far more open and porous. It would ensure a massive wave of new illegal immigration by exacerbating the pull factors caused by legal loopholes.  By keeping chain migration intact, the amendment would expand the total legalized population to potentially ten million new legal aliens – simultaneously leading to undercutting the wages of American workers, threatening public safety and undermining national security.

The changes proposed by Senators Schumer-Rounds-Collins would effectively make the United States a Sanctuary Nation where ignoring the rule of law is encouraged.

It is worth noting that they went there—invoking 9/11 as a tool to fear-monger in support of their deport ’em all plans. Interestingly enough, it is Republican Senator Lindsay Graham who is taking them to task.

With their press release this morning, it seems as if DHS is intent on acting less like a partner and more like an adversary.  Instead of offering thoughts and advice – or even constructive criticism – they are acting more like a political organization intent on poisoning the well…

I don’t think the staffers who compiled this document served the President very well.  As for Secretary Nielsen, I’m incredibly disappointed in her for allowing her office to become so politicized and for allowing something like this to go out.

That is the state of play as we head into the actual votes today. The worst possible outcome would be passage of Grassley’s bill. There are both pluses and minuses to the compromise bills, but that is always the case with bipartisan efforts. The most interesting outcome will be if none of these bills passes—which also happens to be the most likely. The blame game will commence and the fate of the Dreamers will most likely be decided by the courts.

UPDATE: None of the bills garnered the necessary 60 votes, with Grassley’s winning the least (39 votes).

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.