‘Dreamers’ will not figure in U.S. border security talks, Democrat says

By Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Citizenship for “Dreamer” immigrants will not be on the table as lawmakers try to negotiate a compromise on border security to keep federal agencies open beyond Feb. 15, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Tuesday.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he did not think Democrats would consider the issue in exchange for funding for a wall that President Donald Trump wants along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I don’t expect that to be part of the negotiation,” Hoyer told reporters.

He added that he expected to bring a separate bill to the floor in the “near future” on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that currently protects from deportation the “Dreamers,” immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children.

The Trump administration said in September 2017 it would rescind DACA, but it remains in effect under court order.

A committee of Republican and Democratic lawmakers has scheduled an initial, public meeting for Wednesday to begin border security negotiations following the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history.

During the 35-day shutdown, some 800,000 federal employees were furloughed or worked without pay. As a result, the U.S. economy lost about $11 billion, but could recover about $8 billion of that now that the government has reopened and employees will receive back pay, the Congressional Budget Office said on Monday.

The negotiating committee is trying to reach a compromise on the $5.7 billion down payment Trump has sought for his promised wall along the border. The committee will likely have to wrap up its work around Feb. 10 to meet the Feb. 15 deadline. Hoyer said he would like to see a deal by a week from Friday.

The chairman of the House Democratic caucus, Hakeem Jeffries, told reporters that Democrats do not support a border wall “from sea to shining sea,” but said some physical border barriers may be acceptable.

“We are willing to support fencing where it makes sense, but it should be done in an evidence-based fashion,” Jeffries said. He noted that Democrats have supported some border fencing in the past.

Trump has said that if lawmakers do not come up with a deal he likes, he will either let the government shut down again or declare a national emergency to divert funds Congress has approved for other purposes to build a wall.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated his opposition to an emergency declaration in remarks to reporters on Tuesday. He also said he would support bipartisan legislation that would make government shutdowns more difficult.

“I’m certainly open to it,” McConnell said.

By excluding DACA from the negotiations, Democrats are taking away a major bargaining chip Trump could dangle in exchange for wall funding.

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer urged Trump on Tuesday to step back from negotiations and “let Congress do its job.”

“When the president stays out of the negotiations, we almost always succeed,” Schumer told reporters.

Democrats have long sought legislation to end the threat of deportation for “Dreamers.”

But they appear to be maneuvering to keep the negotiations focused on two things – finding a way to fund an array of federal agencies through Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year, and bargaining over how much money will be dedicated to border security for the rest of the fiscal year and how that money will be spent.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker)