NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It … the latest skirmish in the congressional immigration wars.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Every year, Congress has until September 30th to pass a government spending bill before the new fiscal year begins October 1st. If lawmakers can’t agree on a full spending package, they pass stopgap measures to keep the government operating. If they can’t even do that, the government shuts down.
EICHER: Earlier this year lawmakers shut the government down twice—both times over disagreements about immigration.
President Trump wanted the spending packages to include funds for a border wall. Democrats called for a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the country as children. These are the so-called dreamers covered under an Obama-era executive order that’s come to be known as DACA.
It took Congress until March to pass a spending bill to finish fiscal 2018. And neither side got what it wanted.
REICHARD: Well, this may come as a shock—but the parties are still at loggerheads over immigration. And government spending authority runs out next month. But just before House lawmakers left for their August recess, something surprising happened in the Appropriations Committee — a brief outbreak of bipartisanship.
WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has our report.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: On July 25th, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security for 2019.
COMMITTEE: Thank you very much, all of you for your comments. Please to yield to the chairman for a manager’s amendment.
During the eight hour-long markup, Democrats and Republicans offered over 40 different amendments to the bill. Some create reforms to the legal immigration process.
One prohibits ICE from paying for abortions.
Congressman Dan Newhouse—a Republican from Washington state—also inserted a provision that expands the H-2A guest worker program. Right now, H-2A visas are limited to “seasonal” jobs, blocking employers in year-round industries from recruiting legal workers.
NEWHOUSE: My amendment is simple. It clarifies that all of ag may use the H-2A program, so it is truly our nation’s agricultural guest worker program
One amendment was sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat. The amendment provides additional funding for alternatives to detention, family case management services, and detained immigrant health services.
Republicans also passed amendments only proposed by Democrats like an amendment to prevent DHS from allowing the Trump administration to deny asylum to victims of gang violence and domestic abuse.
In other words, it reversed a decision Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in June to narrow the legal pathways for asylum seekers.
The measure passed. That surprised Joshua Breisblatt—chief policy analyst at the American Immigration Council.
BREISBLATT: Congressman Yoder who is a Republican from Kansas and he’s the chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee, um, spoke in favor of the amendment, and they passed by a voice vote, and I think that was probably the most surprising one that passed.
David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, notes one other major surprise, another Democratic proposal that blocks DHS from deporting DACA recipients during the next fiscal year.
BIER: So this is not as good as the Dream Act. It’s not a permanent fix. It just says that the Trump administration can’t remove someone from the country, um, who is eligible for the DACA program.
Joshua Breisblatt says these amendments drew strong support from both sides of the aisle.
BREISBLATT: Immigration has become such a partisan issue. And so I think it was a good sign to see that some of these, that actually all of these amendments passed in a bipartisan way.
Despite these bipartisan agreements, Democrats still ended up voting against the bill, 2922. Cato’s David Bier say that’s because…
BIER: It’s not nearly good enough from their perspective.
The Republican-approved budget increases funding for ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. It also increases the number of detention beds to a record 44,000.
The most controversial element of the spending package? It includes $5 billion to fund President Trump’s border wall. David Bier says the bill could be relatively uncontroversial without that funding. But…
BIER: If the border wall funding was dropped, um, you would lose the White House’s support. The question is whether the White House would be willing to shut down the government over that, and if they did, how long they would be willing to keep up that stance.
Right now, the president seems willing. In multiple tweets President Trump has threatened to shut the government down if the spending package doesn’t include wall funding. He has endorsed that $5 billion amount.
But, David Bier says with midterms approaching, both Democrats and Republicans feel pressure to avoid a government shutdown and abandoning the wall may be the answer.
BIER: I think it’s a very likely scenario that both sides just agree to drop everything and say we’re not going to include anything on immigration as a way to sort of compromise.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate say they are working to pass the majority of the 12 appropriations bills necessary to keep the government operating before the September 30th deadline. They believe they can push off fights over border wall funding until later in the fall. Meanwhile, David Bier says actual comprehensive immigration reform will most likely have to wait.
BIER: If I was placing bets, I would bet against any comprehensive immigration reform happening under this administration because we have seen how difficult it is for them to compromise some of their positions in order to get to a middle ground that would result in some kind of a bill.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.