Future of ‘Dreamers’ in doubt as immigration Bills rejected

After week of debate, US Senate fail to agree legislation that could protect illegal minors

Immigration activists marching  in front of the US Capitol on February 7th. The Daca programme,  which gave protection to the young, undocumented immigrants, is due to expire on March 5th. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Immigration activists marching in front of the US Capitol on February 7th. The Daca programme, which gave protection to the young, undocumented immigrants, is due to expire on March 5th. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

 

The future of “Dreamers” – young people who were brought to the United States as children – remains uncertain after the US Senate failed to agree on a Bill offering them legal protection.

Four separate Bills – including one proposed by President Donald Trump and the White House – failed to muster the 60 votes needed in the 100-seat chamber, ahead of a self-imposed deadline on Friday.

The failure to endorse a plan leaves the future of the 800,000 young people who came to the United States illegally as minors uncertain.

Daca – the deferred action on childhood arrivals programme – is due to expire on March 5th. President Barack Obama introduced the programme, which gave protection to the young, undocumented immigrants, during his presidency, but Mr Trump announced in September he was abolishing the scheme, giving Congress six months to come up with a legislative solution.

While Mr Trump could move to extend the programme when it expires, his chief of staff John Kelly indicated last week he was unlikely to do so.

Of the four proposals voted on by senators, a bipartisan proposal that offered protection for Dreamers as well as $25 billion in funding for border security had been expected to pass. That Bill offered protection to up to 1.8 million Dreamers – extending protection to the estimated 1 million who never registered for the Daca programme.

It was written by a group of 15 Democrats and Republicans and the plan had broad bipartisan support. But in the end the Senate voted by 54 to 46, six votes shy of the 60-vote threshold.

Conservative opposition

Resistance came not just from sceptical Democrats but also from some hard-line conservatives, encouraged by the White House, which opposed legislation that did not include an end to the visa lottery programme or an end to chain migration, the process by which family members are permitted to join immigrants in their adopted country.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration said the proposal would “drastically change our national immigration policy for the worse by weakening border security and undercutting existing immigration law”.

Mr Trump’s own Bill, which was backed by a core group of Republicans in the Senate, was also rejected, mustering just 39 votes.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who presided over what was supposed to be an open, bipartisan debate on immigration all throughout this week, insisted there was still room for a compromise, but blamed Democrats for stalling.

Senate Democrats forced a government shutdown last month over the Dreamers issue, but have so far little to show in terms of legislative progress on resolving the stand-off.

Political sensitivities

The Senate’s failure to unite behind an immigration Bill is indicative of the challenges facing Congress as it tries to tackle the politically-sensitive issue of immigration. Ireland and other countries had been hoping that some form of support for undocumented immigrants could have been attached to the proposed Bill, but that possibility now looks increasingly unlikely.

It is possible that Daca’s expiration on March 5th could be delayed pending court challenges. Some lawmakers also suggested that some form of short-term fix could be attached to a spending Bill that must be passed before March 23rd.