Dems in the driver's seat on DACA
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios
Behind closed doors, and very quietly, lawmakers from both wings of both parties are scrambling to save DACA — a program that has protected from deportation nearly 800,000 young illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
As improbable as it sounds, it currently appears that the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party has more leverage than the Stephen Miller wing of the Republican Party when it comes to DACA.
Obviously this could change. Nothing is solidified. But based on conversations with White House sources, top Hill aides from both parties, and immigration-restrictionist power-brokers, we have concluded that, at the moment, progressive Democrats hold a superior negotiating position to immigration hardliner Republicans.
This is because, on the DACA issue, President Trump has already blinked. Both publicly — in a Sep. 5 tweet, when he hinted he may reinstate DACA unilaterally if Congress can't save it — and privately, the president has indicated he doesn't have the stomach to let DACA die.
- One conservative member of Congress, who has discussed DACA with the president, told me Trump made very clear to him he was prepared to keep the protections in place beyond March — when the program is currently set to expire — if Congress does nothing.
- Roy Beck, an influential immigration hawk who runs NumbersUSA, said Trump's nominee for DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, further reduced the administration's leverage last week when she assured in her confirmation hearing she would protect DACA recipients. "This doesn't strike me as being from the art of negotiations book, does it?" Beck told me.
Stephen Miller, one of the White House's only immigration hardliners, is telling conservative activists that Trump will back legislation giving current DACA recipients legal status — aka amnesty — in exchange for legislation ending chain, or family, migration. And Miller doesn't want the must-pass December spending bill to include a DACA fix.
That appears to be a non-starter. Top Democratic Senate aides have told me they think it's hilarious that Miller thinks he can get this deal, and that chain migration isn't going anywhere.
Where that leaves us:
- Congress must pass a spending bill by December 8. Bernie Sanders and other Democrats expected to run for president in 2020, including Kamala Harris, are effectively threatening to shut down the government over the issue — saying they won't vote for any spending bill unless it protects DACA recipients.
- Democrats are confident Trump won't have the stomach to let DACA expire.
- Democrats in leadership think this means that, despite Miller's opposition, they will be able to include a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients in that must-pass spending bill.
- In exchange, they say they may allow modest increases in border security measures. But nothing that could reasonably be described as a "big beautiful wall" along the southern border.
Just to reiterate: Everything is up in the air. But the above scenario seems the most likely outcome, since it would placate both progressives and moderate Republicans.
Bottom line: Despite the fact that Donald Trump became president running on a historically anti-immigration platform — promising to end DACA on Day One, build a wall, and slash legal immigration — it currently looks like Capitol Hill and the White House may find a solution that would make Jeb Bush proud.