The Risks of a December DACA Fix

by Fred Bauer

According to a New York Times story from earlier this week, some hope that Republican congressional leaders will allow a DACA “fix” to be bundled into the December budget deal. It’s unclear whether leadership will gratify that hope. However, trying to do a DACA fix as part of the budget deal in December could be risky for Republicans if they do not soon agree to a unified strategy on DACA.

There could be benefits to a DACA deal in December. If the GOP is successful at passing tax reform before the December budget negotiations (a big “if”), that successful effort could give political momentum for dealing with other issues. Passing a DACA fix sooner rather than later would give congressional Democrats less time to showboat over the fate of illegal immigrants brought to the country as minors; Democrats had the chance to pass the DREAM Act when they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, so their proclamations of urgency ring more than a little hollow. There’s also a chance that negative headlines from a DACA bill could be drowned out by the rest of the budget deal and the holiday season.

But the rushed nature of making a December DACA fix and the complexity of the budget bill also hold considerable political and policy dangers for the center-right. Right now, the congressional GOP is more than a little divided on how to approach DACA. Immigration maximalists are rushing to promote a stand-alone DREAM Act, the Trump administration is sending mixed signals, some congressional Republicans are insisting on wall funding, and others demand a combination of E-Verify and the RAISE Act in exchange for a legislative version of DACA. With a caucus that splintered, Republicans could have a hard time passing a DACA fix that doesn’t exacerbate existing political divides in the party beyond Washington.

Republicans already have a lot on their plate in the next few months. Tax reform is obviously the biggest policy headline, but there are also disaster-relief funds and a host of other issues to resolve during the budget battle. That packed schedule makes it harder for Republicans to devise a unified (and unifying) approach for a DACA fix.

The continued health-care debacle suggests the dangers of Republicans attempting to pass legislation without a unified caucus. And last week’s primary in Alabama shows that grassroots Republicans are willing to translate their frustration with the Beltway elite into political action. A weak-tea DACA fix — trading some version of the DREAM Act for mere “border security” money — could be a political ticking time-bomb, which could explode during the 2018 primary and general-election seasons.

If congressional Republicans could enact substantive changes to the enforcement and legal-immigration systems either prior to a DACA bill or as part of a DACA bill, they could minimize those political dangers and help advance sustainable immigration policies. But, in order to do that, Republicans will need to gather behind a fairly unified message that they can advance consistently and coherently. If a divided GOP tries to rush into a DACA fix in December, it could find itself being swiftly outmaneuvered by “Chuck and Nancy.”

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