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With last week’s brief government shutdown in the rearview, it’s now time for Congress to refocus on immigration—and the parties seem no closer to a deal now than they were a month ago, even as the March deadline for fixing DACA quickly approaches. The biggest difference between then and now is that the Democrats have forfeited their best leverage to force Republicans to deal.

  • TPM: “The papers of many people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will expire on March 5, and the short-term budget blows past that deadline, funding the government until March 23 and raising the debt ceiling until mid-2019. If Congress fails to agree on a permanent solution for DACA recipients in the next few weeks—or even a short-term punt many lawmakers see as a ‘Plan Z’—young immigrants who have grown up in the United States and registered with the government could be deported later this year.”
  • “‘All leverage is gone,’ a grim-faced Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) told reporters before the vote. ‘Back in September, we said we would have leverage on the budget and on the debt ceiling. Now, we’re giving it all up. Once you’ve lifted the caps, do you really believe anybody is going to take us seriously?’”
  • So what immigration framework is likely to move forward? From Politico: “President Trump’s immigration framework will likely get a vote during the Senate’s wide-ranging immigration debate this month, though it probably won’t become law without major alterations that could bring Democratic support. Nonetheless, a group of Republican senators on Sunday evening announced their intention to offer the president’s framework as legislation during the immigration debate. The proposal would offer a pathway to citizenship to 1.8 million young immigrants eligible for the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, in return for $25 billion in border security and wall money as well as cuts to family based-immigration.”
  • “In addition to Trump’s, a bipartisan group of senators believes it is close to clinching an immigration plan that has significant support in both parties. Also, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), is preparing a three-year extension of the DACA program in return for some border money as a fallback plan. Democrats are also likely to offer a partisan plan, and senators may offer a proposal mirroring the 2013 Gang of Eight bill that passed the Senate in 2013.”
  • Meanwhile [Politico]: “What is clear is that [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s] pledge of unlimited amendments could open vulnerable senators in both parties up to politically tough votes on a range of contentious issues—from beefed-up enforcement to a pathway to citizenship. And despite allies’ claims that McConnell wants to get the issue off the Senate’s plate, there’s no guarantee his promise for a freewheeling immigration debate will yield a new law. … But McConnell does want strong GOP backing for any final bill and will be loath to pass anything that can’t get at least 30 Senate Republicans in support, according to two Republican senators. That might go a long way toward insulating his party from conservative criticism, as well as winning over President Donald Trump and House Republicans.”

WHAT IT MEANS: McConnell is offering unlimited amendments in the Senate, which means there will likely be votes on everything from a pathway to citizenship to dramatic cuts to legal immigration. Many of these will be about politics—i.e., fodder for campaign ads—than actual policy. But the bigger question is what can actually pass the Senate. Democrats aren’t going to go for Trump’s plan. A clean DACA fix—meaning, one that addresses Dreamers but not border security or legal immigration—could probably pass the Senate with Democratic and a few Republican votes, but whether it would get to sixty, or whether there would be thirty Republicans on board, is an open question, not to mention whether whatever the Senate passes could get by the hardliners in the House. Minus a breakthrough, Dreamers’ best hope will be for Plan Z, a one-year extension of their protected status, which right now seems like the most likely option. [Politico] And with Democrats having given up their best leverage in the budget, there’s not much more they can do than block Trump’s bill from becoming law.

Related: After President Trump took office, arrests by Immigration and Customers Enforcement surged by 40 percent. The administration has given the agency wider latitude in whom it detains, and ICE has responded by going after undocumented immigrants with no criminal histories, detaining 37,734 of them in


year 2017. [WaPo]