Washington Watch: No go on Senate DACA bills

The Senate has failed to pass legislation that would have provided permanent legal status for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) enrollees and other Dreamers.

The votes on February 15 were a deeply disappointing outcome for thousands of such students on community college campuses, and another setback for legislation to provide them a path to citizenship that the American Association of Community Colleges has supported since 2001. The president has set March 5 as a deadline for Congress to craft a bill addressing DACA issues.

None of three different Senate bills that would have protected DACA enrollees mustered the 60 votes necessary to proceed to final passage. Fifty-four senators, including eight Republicans, voted for a proposal crafted by a bipartisan group of moderate senators dubbed the Common Sense Coalition. The proposal would have extended legal status to approximately 1.8 million Dreamers and provided additional funds for border security, including the construction of a border wall. Three Democrats voted against that provision because they objected to the border wall funding.

Another bill proposed by Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Christopher Coons (D-Delaware) would have protected a slightly larger group of Dreamers, but contained no money for a border wall. The legislation failed on a 52-47 vote, with four Republicans voting in favor and one Democrat voting against.

What the president wants

The third proposal, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), implemented President Trump’s immigration proposal, viewed by most Democrats and some Republicans as too hawkish. It would have given legal status to 1.8 million Dreamers, funded the border wall, drastically cut back on family-sponsored immigration, and ended the visa lottery program for immigrants from underrepresented countries. This plan received the lowest support of the three, falling on a vote of 39-60, including 14 Republican “No” votes.

President Trump, who at one point said he would sign any immigration bill that came to his desk, has been insistent in recent days that he would only sign legislation similar to the Grassley proposal. The administration indicated that the president would veto the bipartisan proposal, potentially thwarting additional Republican support for the bipartisan measure.

Watching the courts

The future is again unclear for the Dreamers. Because of two federal court orders, DACA remains in effect and enrollees may apply for two-year extensions, though no new applications are being accepted. Should those orders remain in effect, the program will not terminate on March 5 as originally planned by the administration. The Supreme Court is reportedly deciding today whether to hear an administration challenge to the first court order.

Further congressional action on a permanent fix for Dreamers seems unlikely for now, though negotiations will continue to try to reach a deal that can pass the Senate and House and be signed by the president. In the meantime, Congress may temporarily extend the DACA program, perhaps through a fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill it must pass next month, but that is speculative at this point.

Dreamers and community colleges

About the Author

Jim Hermes
is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.