As I’m writing this now, Congressional Republican leaders are scrambling to figure out what to do about immigration… Again. Will this time be any different from February, when President Donald Trump ultimately suffocated any chance of a bipartisan DACA deal that Trump himself claimed he wanted? This time, it depends on how far Republicans are willing to go to actually achieve a solution.
This isn’t their first time at the DACA rodeo
The DACA showdown began as soon as Trump was inaugurated. He demanded more ICE raids on immigrant communities, even if those raids would result in DREAMers being arrested and marked for deportation. Then in September 2017, Trump announced the end of the DACA program that provides deportation relief for some 800,000 DREAMers nationally (including about 13,000 DREAMers here in Nevada).
Trump then claimed he wanted Congress to reach a deal that would result in permanent protection for DREAMers. But when Democrats offered the DREAM Act that’s attracted bipartisan support in the past, Trump rejected it. When a bipartisan group of Senators attempted a DACA deal with “border security funding” attached, Trump rejected that. When U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) offered border wall funding, Trump even rejected that.
Ultimately, the U.S. Senate had a “vote-a-rama” that included several immigration proposals in February. All failed, with Trump’s preferred legislation only receiving 39 votes amidst a slew of Republican defections. At the time, any chance of immigration reform has seemed dead as a doornail.
How one vulnerable California Republican may have changed the dynamic
Since then, a few things have changed. For one, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has publicly announced the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance policy” and further intensified their deportation agenda. Second, the White House and several states are now fighting over the future of DACA in federal court. And third, Congressional Republicans are fearing their political future all over again as a fresh round of polls show sagging support for their candidates and Trump’s immigration policies.
One of the Republicans most fearful is Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock). Even before his underwhelming performance in this week’s California primary, he began pushing for a bipartisan DACA solution on the House side, where the hard-right Freedom Caucus had successfully blocked any attempt at passing any immigration bill that Trump would object to. Not only is his district nearly 45% Latinx, but it’s also based in the Central Valley where the agricultural industry relies heavily on immigrant labor. Oh, and Denham’s 10th Congressional District is also one of the seven Republican-held California House seats that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 and Democrats are heavily contesting in 2018.
Regardless of whether Denham’s DACA advocacy is based in caring for his constituents or worrying about his reelection, it’s caused a whole new round of headaches for House Republican leaders. The Freedom Caucus remains dead set against anything Trump labels as “amnesty”, yet Denham says he’s close to securing the majority support he needs to bring his discharge petition to the floor and force a round of full House votes on various immigration proposals. House Republicans may be close to reaching an agreement on a bill that may provide an eight-year visa to DACA recipients, though it’s still unclear whether this will result in a bill before next Tuesday’s discharge petition deadline.
How one Nevada Republican may guarantee a DACA deal, or kill it all over again
Even if the House manages to pass something, there’s still the matter of the Senate. And once more, it may come down to what Nevada’s own Senator Dean Heller (R) may or may not do. Last week, he signaled opposition to Trump’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy. Yet hours later, Heller told an audience at a private Republican Party event in Gardnerville that he only supports immigration legislation that Trump supports. So long as the latter dynamic holds, the Senate may remain in gridlock.
There’s also the matter of what actually ends up in the bill. Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) continues to claim “agreement around the four pillars” of Trump’s preferred immigration plan, yet Democrats and some moderate Republicans continue to oppose the immigration restrictions that the Senate soundly rejected in February. Ultimately, Republicans will probably have to decide whether they want a bipartisan bill that stands a better chance of passing the Senate or a bill that pleases Trump.
In the meantime, immigrant communities in Nevada and across the nation continue to live in limbo and do their best to fight against the odds to keep their families together. And since negotiations are still mostly centered on a narrow DACA fix, it remains to be seen whether other immigrants at risk will get any relief from Congress any time soon. Whatever happens in the coming days, this latest push for a DACA fix at least offers a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, Congress might be willing to push back against Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.