McConnell just gave the Senate a crisis and a hard deadline on DACA

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is giving the Senate the rest of this week only to consider permanent legislation to protect the nearly 800,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers before he moves on to “other things.”

On Tuesday, McConnell said the Senate would limit its work to this week only to provide a permanent framework following the expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — setting in place a definitive deadline for an tough piece of immigration legislation that would grant earned citizenship to 1.8 million undocumented immigrants and likely amp up immigration enforcement.

“Senators have had plenty of time to prepare,” McConnell said, according to Politico. “There’s no reason why we should not reach a bipartisan solution this week. But to do this, we need to get the debate started, look past making political points and focus on actually making law.”

In the past, McConnell downplayed the urgency in resolving what should have been the easiest segment of the undocumented population to provide permanent legislation. After all, Dreamers have been trotted out as hopeful Americans with “merit” and “skill,” two core elements of the Trump administration’s focus to encourage lower levels of immigration.

“There is no crisis,” McConnell said in December. “There is no emergency. The president has given us until March to address it.”

Now with a little more than three days left in the week, McConnell just gave the Senate a crisis — and a hard deadline.

Debate has swirled around the DACA program — which provided temporary deportation protections and work authorization to nearly 800,000 immigrants who came to the country as children — since President Donald Trump phased out the program to end on March 5, 2018. A federal judge ruled that current beneficiaries could renew their applications for one final two-year renewal, but the uncertainty of a White House challenge has made permanent legislation into a much more urgent legislative request.

Allowing three days to debate the lives of millions of immigrants is absurd for a few reasons. The White House has repeatedly claimed DACA recipients have until March 5 to worry about being at risk of deportation. But that claim has not held water as more DACA recipients have found themselves in the crosshairs of immigration enforcement operations, whether as collateral arrests or because they came into direct contact with officials. And it seems a bit crass to throw the lives of so many immigrants into limbo. These people contribute to America not just economically, and many are in crucially underemployed industries like teaching, healthcare, and even the military.

Both parties have various immigration proposals that require the support of at least 60 senators to pass legislation, which will receive alternating votes between Democratic and Republican amendments, Politico reported. But there’s also the issue of McConnell undercutting time by propping up measures that will go nowhere with Democrats. On Tuesday, Democrats objected to the Senate majority leader’s attempt to set up floor votes on a sanctuary cities amendment. The amendment essentially withholds congressional funding from local law enforcement agencies for choosing not to turn over suspected undocumented immigrants in their custody without a warrant.

Agreement may be hard to come by as other amendments are unlikely to receive 60 votes on the Senate floor. Some Democratic senators insist on a “clean” DREAM Act, or a way to give some so-called Dreamers an earned pathway to citizenship, without slashing legal immigration avenues and additional funding for more number of federal immigration agents who could potentially go after their parents. Few, if any, Republicans would be willing to support that without concessions that include border security measures or fewer legal immigrants in the country. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is expected to introduce a compromise proposal that will fund a border wall, provide a pathway to 1.8 million immigrants, eliminate the diversity visa lottery, limit family-based visas, and reallocate visas to deal with the growing backlog. A bipartisan proposal from Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE) does not include border wall funding, but also does not have the support of the president who ultimately has to sign the full bill.