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Government shutdown: Why Democrats reject Trump immigration, funding deal

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A bitter stalemate between President Donald Trump and Congressional Democrats is expected to hit a new low on Thursday, as the Senate prepares to vote on two dueling bills to end the government shutdown. Both appear destined to fail.

The votes come after Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer brokered a Tuesday agreement to bring their respective plans to the floor.

The Democrat-backed plan, already passed by the House, would reopen the government with no border wall funding.

In December 2018, the Republican-controlled Senate passed a similar bill unanimously prior to the shutdown, However, after Trump suddenly changed his mind in December, saying he wouldn’t sign a bill without wall funding — kicking off the shutdown — Republicans have held the line. Thus far, McConnell has not brought a clean spending bill to the floor.

The GOP bill is fashioned from a plan introduced by Trump on Saturday, which the president billed as a “common sense compromise.” The measure would open the government, secure funding for the border wall, long-promised to his base, and make limited concessions on extending temporary protections for Dreamers and other immigrants.

But the supposed “compromise” measure has little chance at passing. Democrats balked at the proposal as soon as it was released. Democratic skepticism increased after Senate Republicans released text of the proposed legislation on Monday evening. The bill contains a slew of unexpected and severe cuts to the US asylum system and other immigration programs that were “poison pills” for Democrats.

Overhauls US asylum, especially for Central American children

The bill’s most stunning change to current asylum law was a rule that unaccompanied children from Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras) would be required to apply for US asylum at not-yet-established processing centers in Central America, rather than journeying to the US-Mexico border to apply for asylum and wait in the US for their cases to be heard.

If the bill were passed, it would mean nearly all unaccompanied children who arrive at the US border seeking asylum would be immediately deported back to their home countries.

A migrant father and child, who traveled with the annual caravan of Central American migrants, rest where they set up camp to wait for access to request asylum in the US.
Associated Press

Beyond that, the GOP bill would add a 50,000-person cap on the number of asylum applications the US government accepts, with a further cap of 15,000 on the number of applications granted.

Customs and Border Protection arrested more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors in the fiscal year 2018, who then requested asylum.

“The administration hopes that this will deter people from coming to the United States. It’s unclear whether that would work,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, told INSIDER. “People who are in fear for their life often are willing to accept a lesser form of status, if it saves their lives. So many may still come anyway. It’s hard to tell that this would even have the deterrent effect that the administration hopes it would have.”

Narrows protections for Dreamers

Democrats also faulted Trump over the DACA proposal offered in the bill. The GOP bill offers a three-year extension to the popular program that shields young, unauthorized immigrants from deportation and allows them to work legally, which the Democrats believe is not enough.

The bill’s text also contains several other provisions that would dramatically restrict the program. The proposed bill would limit the pool of eligible Dreamers to the roughly 700,000 immigrants who currently have DACA protections, rather than the estimated 1.8 million who potentially qualify. They would also have to reapply, rather than renew their application as is currently the policy. The proposed application process would also be more stringent, NBC News explains, with applicants having to meet a higher annual income if they are not students, and pay a higher application fee.

Instead of extending DACA protections for Dreamers, the bill “replaces it with a totally different program that will exclude untold thousands of Dreamers who would have been eligible under DACA,” according to David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Trump ended DACA in 2017, however it has remained in place due to federal court rulings, and on Tuesday the Supreme Court declined to review the program.

Slashes Temporary Protected Status

Temporary Protected Status is given by the Department of Homeland security to those who cannot return safely to their home country. The GOP bill extends TPS by three years for roughly 300,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

However, it leaves behind immigrants from five other countries for whom Trump terminated protections, and as a result their TPS status has either lapsed or will expire without congressional action.

The Trump administration has rescinded TPS for immigrants from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Nepal, and Sudan over the last two years, and the Trump-backed bill would do nothing to reinstate their protections.

The bill would also overhaul the TPS application process adding a higher evidentiary burden on immigrants to prove that they’re eligible for protections and significantly increasing the financial burden on applicants.

A ‘lack of good faith’

While the original outline that Trump proposed was rejected by Democratic leaders, some analysts believed that the suggestions showed a pathway forward for talks coming out of the weekend.

“Both parties are still dug in publicly, but in private there’s some movement on two key issues – the Democrats could accept funding for a border barrier, and the Republicans could bend further on the issue of protection for the so-called Dreamers,'” Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments, wrote in a note to clients.

But as more details came out about the proposal, Democrats argued that the GOP bill was not even close to a compromise and designed to fail in order to make Trump appear to be offering concessions.

“No one – no one – can call this a new effort at compromise,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “The asylum changes are a poison pill if there ever was one, and show the lack of good faith that the president, and now [Senate Majority] Leader McConnell, have in trying to make a proposal.”

White House officials even said privately that they added controversial provisions to the bill they knew Democrats would balk at, according to The New York Times.

So despite the “compromise” attempt and votes in the Senate, when the bills likely fail the two parties will be just as far apart as ever.

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