The Senate decided to reopen the government on Monday, essentially kicking the budget argument down the road for a few more weeks. But money wasn't the only topic up for negotiation — senators were also discussing a solution to replace the program that gives Dreamers legal status in the United States. The solution is still not here yet, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised that what's happening with DACA will be figured out by Feb. 8, the next time the federal government will run out of money.
In announcing the decision to vote to reopen the government on the third day of the shutdown, Schumer explained that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was going to be a priority over the next weeks — not just a blip in a spending bill. And if it's not passed by the next shutdown of Feb. 8, the Senate will prioritize passing a DACA replacement. Schumer said:
We will vote today to reopen the government, to continue negotiating a global agreement, with the commitment that, if an agreement is not reached by Feb 8th, the Senate will immediately proceed to consideration of legislation dealing with DACA. The process will be neutral & fair.
Hours before, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had tried to make the point that continuing the shutdown would actually delay the passage of a Dream Act or some other DACA replacement. "Every day we spend arguing about keeping the lights on is another day we cannot spend negotiating DACA or defense spending or any of our other shared priorities," McConnell told reporters.
Other Republicans also tried to make the argument to fund the government while DACA is further debated. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told CNN that there remained a lot to be hammered out in any future immigration agreement. "There’s a long way, I think, towards getting a larger deal, which is why it’s so important to go ahead and open the government now," Mulvaney said on State of the Union Sunday.
The status of DACA in the shutdown negotiations has been a big question mark — and it remains unclear what exactly will happen in February, when McConnell wants to take up the legislation.
But there's one big thing to note: Political analysts have pointed out the Republican leader also promised to work on immigration the last time that Congress passed a continuing resolution in January, and that hasn't happened. So, it's hard to pinpoint what's going to be different this time around.
All of this was supposed to happen in the context of DACA ending. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in September that the program would be ended in six months and set a deadline of Oct. 5 for renewals to be processed — leading to a huge rush in Dreamers attempting to meet the deadline and extend their legal status.
But a January injunction forced the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to accept renewals as a court case on Trump's ability to end DACA moves its way through the court system. Anyone who had legal status on Sep. 5 when the program's end was announced is still able to renew, and the directions are available online. This is good news for people whose status has expired and those who weren't able to renew earlier for financial or other reasons.
Kicking the can down the road would be a lot more problematic for Dreamers if it weren't for the injunction. That said, the Department of Justice has appealed the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court, asking that they be allowed to end the program on schedule.
For Dreamers, a solution from Congress remains the best bet.