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Dems Dig in Heels on Demand for Permanent DACA Fix in Spending Bill

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks during a rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Capitol Hill on Jan. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON –Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told PJM today on Capitol Hill that a path to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiaries should be included in the short-term spending bill to keep the government running even though DACA recipients are able to renew their status again.

After a recent federal court ruling, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has begun accepting status renewal requests from DACA recipients.

“USCIS is not accepting requests from individuals who have never before been granted deferred action under DACA. USCIS will not accept or approve advance parole requests from DACA recipients. If you previously received DACA and your DACA expired on or after Sept. 5, 2016, you may still file your DACA request as a renewal request,” the USCIS website read.

Merkley was asked why Democrats should oppose the short-term spending bill passed by the House given that USCIS is accepting renewal requests from DACA recipients.

“Well, the legal status is certainly up in the air; the administration is appealing that ruling. It’s really unfair to these children who have grown up in our communities to keep denying them a resolution of their legal status, so this needs to be done,” he replied. “Listen, the Republicans are intent on shutting this place down. It’s on their heads because we are proposing a short-term CR to keep the negotiations going, actually, to try to create the negotiations because Mitch McConnell has been so intent on a tax bill to deliver a trillion dollars to the richest Americans, and before that he was so intent on wiping out healthcare for 30 million Americans.”

Merkley said McConnell has “had no time to actually deal with the fundamentals of our budget and the fundamentals of addressing the basic issues like healthcare and legal status, so I hope Mitch and his team will decide they are actually going to be engaged in the negotiation and that they don’t want to shut the place down.”

“I think it would be bad policy and bad politics – but if Mitch and Trump are set on it, well, then they’ll find out,” he added.

In response to the same question, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said President Trump and the GOP-led Congress could have addressed DACA a while ago.

“We’re talking about something that could have been, if people actually kept their word, could have been taken care of months ago – people including the president,” Leahy told PJM.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was asked why Democrats are allowing the fate of the 30-day spending bill to “hinge” on the inclusion of DACA protections.

“It’s not just that. I happen to believe in DACA and protecting our DREAMers is one of the great moral issues of our time,” Sanders replied. “These young people are living in incredible pain and anxiety. Some of them will be facing the possibility of deportation in the not-so-distant future – that is unspeakable and we cannot allow that to happen.”

When pressed on the Democrats’ push to include DACA in the short-term budget bill, Sanders said the Democrats do not want to run the government on continuing resolutions (CRs) in place of full budgets. CRs were often used to fund the federal government on a temporary basis when President Obama was in office and the Democrats controlled the Senate.

“It is not DACA. There are many, many people, Democrats and Republicans, for whom that is not even a major issue. This is the major issue. Listen to what the military said yesterday: they said we cannot run a Defense Department on a month-to-month basis,” Sanders said. “We’re three-and-a-half months into the fiscal year, we do not have a 2018 budget – that is not the way you run a government.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) lamented the use of CRs in a tweet on Thursday.

“We have been skating by on continuing resolution after continuing resolution for almost 6 months. First, we passed a 3-month CR, then a 2-wk CR, then a 1-month CR. Now we are offered another month-long delay of the inevitable. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” he wrote.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was optimistic that both parties would come to an agreement on spending to avoid a government shutdown. Cardin was asked if he would support any short-term funding bill that does not include a DACA provision.

“Let’s see what they send over for the vote. They’re still negotiating. I’m very hopeful that we’ll have an agreement to keep government open and move these issues. I think we’ve got to have a budget and we have to have a game plan to get to a budget, solve the DACA issue, resolve the disaster relief and the CHIP program and all those – so I’m for action,” he said.

When asked if he would support a spending bill that only includes a permanent solution for the 800,000 DACA beneficiaries rather than the language of the DREAM Act, Cardin replied, “I’m fully supporting the bipartisan negotiations that have taken place. I think that’s what we need more of – we need more bipartisan agreements. I have confidence in Sens. Graham and Durbin to reach a fair agreement.”