Senate passes short-term funding bill to end government shutdown

The three-day government shutdown is over, as Donald Trump signed a short-term spending bill that would provide a temporary respite from the crisis until 8 February.

The official end to the shutdown came on Monday night after Senate Democrats voted to fund the government for three weeks in exchange for a promise of a future Senate vote on immigration. The compromise broke the standoff over the fate of Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer announced earlier on Monday that his party would support the legislation – which funds the government through 8 February, while extending for six years a popular health insurance program, Chip, that provides coverage to 9 million children.

Democrats yielded after Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell promised to put an immigration bill on the floor in February to address the status of Dreamers, if no bipartisan deal could be reached by then.

The bill passed 81-18. Sixteen Democrats and two libertarian-minded Republicans voted against it. Among them were a number of potential Democratic presidential candidates in 2020 including Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The bill then went to the House which quickly passed it a vote of 266-150. A total of 45 Democrats voted in favor and six Republicans voted against. It must now be signed by Donald Trump before federal employees can go back to work.

Trump said on Monday afternoon that Democrats “have come to their senses”, and said he was open to an immigration deal only if it was “good for our country”.

Earlier McConnell had offered to consider legislation that would protect Dreamers. “This immigration debate will have a level playing field at the outset and an amendment process that’s fair to all sides,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor on Monday.

Speaking on the floor before the vote, Schumer placed the blame on the shutdown squarely on the White House. He mocked Trump for not engaging in negotiations, saying “the great deal-making president sat on the sidelines”.

However, he said he felt confident that McConnell would abide by the terms of the deal they reached and tried to place the burden on following through on the majority leader. “The Republican majority now has 17 days to prevent the Dreamers from being deported,” said Schumer.

McConnell spoke briefly and took a small victory lap. “If we learned anything in this process, the strategy of shutting down of the government over issue of illegal immigration is something the American people didn’t understand and would not have understood in the future.”

When the US Congress fails to pass appropriate funding for government operations and agencies, a shutdown is triggered. Most government services are frozen, barring those that are deemed “essential”, such as the work of the Department of Homeland Security and FBI.

During a shutdown, nearly 40% of the government workforce is placed on unpaid furlough and told not to work. Many, but not all, are non-defense federal employees. Active duty military personnel are not furloughed. Read more

The status of Dreamers was thrown into uncertainty in September, when Trump rescinded an Obama-era program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), that allowed hundreds of thousands to work and study without fear of deportation.

Trump allowed a six-month grace period for Congress to pass a legislative solution. McConnell’s proposal is to allow debate and a vote on an immigration bill that would pair border security enforcement with a Daca fix – if bipartisan agreement does not emerge before federal funding runs out on 8 February.

But many Democrats were wary, fearing they would not have the leverage to force an immigration vote if a spending bill was passed.

Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, told CNN the offer was an “an empty promise, a transparent ploy without any commitment to making dreamers legislation part of a must-pass bill”.

“I don’t believe he made any commitment whatsoever,” Kamala Harris, a senator from California who opposed the bill, said of McConnell. “And I think it would be foolhardy to believe that he made a commitment.”

Even if the Senate were to take up immigration legislation, there is no guarantee House Republican leadership would take action on a subject that fiercely divides their caucus.

When asked Monday he believed a reasonable immigration bill could pass the House, Delaware Democrat Chris Coons snickered. “Ha, that’s an excellent question,” said Coons. “Go ask some House members.”

Coons was nonetheless confident the debate would be defined by the Senate, where he cited substantive talks along bipartisan lines.

He said: “Look, we can’t move forward here if we don’t trust each other, and I will trust that Leader McConnell will keep his word.”

Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, told reporters: “I think the reality is … you can’t get a commitment from the House.”

But if the Senate were able to pass an immigration bill, King added, there would be “tremendous pressure” on Trump and House Republicans to act. “Do they really want to start deporting third-grade teachers on March 5?”

Who are the Dreamers?

Dreamers are young immigrants who would qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (Daca) program, enacted under Barack Obama in 2012. Most people in the program entered the US as children and have lived in the US for years “undocumented”. Daca gave them temporary protection from deportation and work permits. Daca was only available to people younger than 31 on 15 June 2012, who arrived in the US before turning 16 and lived there continuously since June 2007. Most Dreamers are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and the largest numbers live in California, Texas, Florida and New York. Donald Trump cancelled the program in September but has also said he wants Congress to develop a program to “help” the population.

What will happen to the Dreamers?

Under the Trump administration, new applications under Daca will no longer be accepted. For those currently in the program, their legal status and other Daca-related permits (such as to work and attend college) will begin expiring in March 2018 – unless Congress passes legislation allowing a new channel for temporary or permanent legal immigration status – and Dreamers will all lose their status by March 2020.

Technically, as their statuses lapse they could be deported and sent back to countries many have no familiarity with. It is still unclear whether this would happen. Fear had been rising in the run-up to last week’s announcement. Those with work permits expiring between 5 September 2017 and 5 March 2018 will be allowed to apply for renewal by 5 October.

What does the recent ruling by Judge William Alsup mean?

In his ruling, Alsup ordered the Trump administration to restart the program, allowing Daca recipients who already qualify for the program to submit applications for renewal.

However, he said the federal government did not have to process new applications from people who had not previously received protection under the program.

When the Trump administration ended the Daca program, it allowed Daca recipients whose legal status expired on or before 5 March to renew their legal status. Roughly 22,000 recipients failed to successfully renew their legal status for various reasons.

Legal experts and immigration advocates are advising Daca recipients not to file for renewal until the administration provides more information about how it intends to comply with the ruling.

“These next days and weeks are going to create a lot of confusion on the legal front,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which has filed a separate lawsuit against the Trump administration’s termination of Daca. Joanna Walters

Over the weekend, Democrats and Republicans blamed each other for the shutdown.

Trump and Republicans attacked Democrats for prioritizing undocumented migrants over Americans. Democrats cited polling that showed the public blame Republicans, who run both houses of Congress and the White House.

But on Monday Republican senator Lisa Murkowski, who was a part of the bipartisan negotiations to reopen the government, said: “We are in a much, much different space than we were on Friday.”

This was echoed by Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, who told the Guardian “shutdowns are never good thing but this really motivated a group of Democrats and Republicans to come together and get things done”.

Senator Jeff Flake, a leading co-sponsor of legislation to grant legal status to Dreamers, said Trump’s lack of engagement had undermined discussions, in part due to a lack of clarity around the president’s position on immigration.

“We don’t know what the president wants,” Flake said. “Let’s put it this way – we shouldn’t rely on the president to move forward.”


Lauren Gambino, Ben Jacobs and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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