What DACA has to do with the government shutdown

Dreamers say now is the time.
Dreamers say now is the time.
Image: Reuters/Yuri Gripas
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The looming threat of a US government shutdown has created a rare moment of synchrony for politicians on both sides of the aisle trying to help America’s “dreamers.”

Hundreds of thousands of US residents who were brought to the country illegally as children, known as dreamers, want the US Congress to pass a law to let them stay in the country. For years, they had been protected by the Obama-era program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Donald Trump cancelled the program in September. If Congress doesn’t come up with an alternative soon, DACA recipients will become subject to deportation as their benefits expire.

In the meantime, a contentious spending bill must be approved by Friday to avert a government shutdown. That spending bill, for which Republican congressional leaders don’t have enough votes, is providing special leverage for immigrant rights advocates: In a rare show of Trump-era bi-partisanship, both Democrats and Republicans are using the threat of a shutdown to pressure their colleagues into finally addressing the issue.

California senator Kamala Harris, for example, has vowed to vote against the spending bill if it doesn’t include a DACA fix. So has Republican representative Carlos Curbelo from Florida. He and 33 other Republican House members also sent a letter to speaker Paul Ryan this week saying they want the issue to be settled before the end of the year.

It’s unclear how many representatives hinge their support for the spending bill on DACA. Colorado Republican Mike Coffman, who signed the letter, said he will not vote based solely on DACA. At least one Democrat, senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia, has said the same. Manchin and other Democrats have a list of other high-priority items they want the bill to include, such as funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Republican leaders are trying to kick the DACA can down the road. They say they are committed to helping dreamers—just not at this very moment. “We are certainly willing to enter into those good-faith negotiations, but they do not belong in an end-of-the-year spending appropriations debate,” said Texas senator John Cornyn told reporters.

Congressmembers have a more urgent delay to tend to, postponing the spending bill’s Friday deadline. The House was planning to vote on a bill that would buy them two more weeks on Thursday. President Trump was set to meet leaders from both parties.