While senators are still sorting out their memories of what exactly President Donald Trump uttered last week in an Oval Office meeting about people from African nations—was it “shithole” or, as newly reported by the The Washington Post, “shithouse”?—a Friday-night deadline looms over Capitol Hill. Democrats and immigration activists have made the stakes clear: Congress must reach a spending-resolution agreement that could protect DACA recipients or risk a government shutdown.
Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham had shown up at the White House on Thursday to deliver the bipartisan deal president Trump asked for earlier in the week. Their plan would have dealt with the four aspects of immigration policy that Trump had asked for action on. It would have granted DACA recipients long-term legal status, beefed up border security, restricted family-based migration, and curtailed the diversity-visa lottery. But after intervention from immigration hardliners, which led to the president’s Thursday blowup and subsequent weekend tweets calling a DACA deal “probably dead,” the path to a potential agreement has become considerably rockier. And, ABC reports, the likelihood that Congress will instead pass another short-term stopgap spending bill has increased.
But what’s also clear is that talks continue, with or without the president’s cooperation. On Tuesday, during Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s testimony in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Senator Graham (R-SC) acknowledged the roller-coaster ride that the DACA deal has become—as well as his outline for what a legislative package could look like.
“This has turned into an ‘s-show,’” Graham said, referencing the president’s vulgarities, “and we need to get back to being a great country.”
“I don’t know how we right this ship,” Graham said. “Dr. King said something pretty poignant. He said we came on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”
The Graham-Durbin deal, Vox reported, would include curbs on family-based migration, which Trump and other anti-immigration hardliners have referred to pejoratively as “chain migration.” But it’d do so modestly, by restricting whom DACA recipients, in the eventuality that they one day became citizens, could sponsor to bring to the United States. It also includes relief for the more than 250,000 people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan, many of whom have lived here for decades, who will soon become undocumented as a result of the Trump administration’s canceling their Temporary Protected Status. The plan would cut the diversity-visa lottery, through which 50,000 people annually enter the country, and would redistribute those visas on a non-lottery basis. The plan would, also, include billions for more border security, including the wall.
As Graham laid out Tuesday, this plan would follow the outlines of what lawmakers appeared to agree on a week ago, and would be “phase one” of a two-part attempt at reforming the country’s immigration system. The second phase would include more border-security measures and allowances for the larger undocumented population, estimated at 11 million, and increases for legal immigration “so people in the future don’t have to cheat.”
Graham also addressed the 700,000 young people whose lives have been thrown up in the air by Trump’s September decision to shut down DACA. After a federal judge’s order last Tuesday, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting renewal applications over the weekend. Judge William Alsup’s order breathed temporary life back into DACA after the Trump administration barred the government from accepting applications on October 5.
“We’re not gonna leave you behind,” Graham promised the Dreamers. “I don’t know how this movie ends, but you’re gonna be taken care of.”
White House staffers like Stephen Miller may be singularly dedicated to killing whatever bipartisan agreement Durbin and Graham can cook up. Democrats have pledged not to back any deal that does not come through for DACA recipients—and hundreds of Dreamers and immigration activists who filled the atrium of the Hart Senate building Tuesday are keeping up the heat to hold them to it. But the framework of a deal exists. And the president, depending on the hour, appears to want to sign it.