By Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Tuesday he did not expect a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamer” immigrants to be on the table as lawmakers try to negotiate a compromise on border security to keep federal agencies open beyond Feb. 15.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he did not expect Democrats to consider a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants who are currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in exchange for funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I don’t expect that to be part of the negotiation,” Hoyer told reporters, adding that he expected to bring a separate bill on DACA to the floor in the “near future.”
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 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 Republican President Donald 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.
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.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell reiterated his opposition to an emergency declaration in remarks to reporters on Tuesday. He also said he would be supportive of 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 potentially taking away a major bargaining chip Trump could dangle in exchange for wall funding.
Democrats long have sought legislation to end the threat of deportation for undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States illegally when they were minors.
Instead, Democrats 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; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Chizu Nomiyama)