Well, here Washington goes again, allowing a contentious debate over immigration to swing the country in the direction of a partial government shutdown. At midnight Friday several agencies, including Homeland Security, will run out of money unless Congress reaches agreement on a spending bill that President Donald Trump signs.
All we can say is: Ugh.
This is potentially a repeat of the disastrous standoff from earlier this year, though the focus of the disagreement between Trump and Democrats has shifted. The president still wants funding for his wall on the southern border, which he may get. The latest breakdown in talks came over the number of immigrants arriving illegally who can be detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Congressional negotiators Monday night reported they had an agreement in principle to avert a shutdown, but details weren’t provided immediately and it wasn’t known if Trump would sign on.
Let’s pause to acknowledge that political negotiations often go down to the wire. The better for each side to claim it fought to the finish before agreeing to a settlement in the best interests of the country. The previous partial government shutdown, which lasted 35 days and required airport security personnel and air traffic controllers to work without pay, was needlessly extended by Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: They boxed themselves in to hard-line positions.
This time Republicans and Democrats, along with Trump, are taking a more pragmatic approach. They are haggling over numbers rather than fighting over policies. Trump demanded $5.7 billion for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent people from walking into the country. The president now will compromise on the amount, though he could change his mind: All it takes from Trump is one tweet to upend the status quo. Democrats focus on the number of beds ICE should maintain for detainees who come into custody within the U.S. The conflict with Republicans relates to how aggressively ICE should target people living in the country without legal permission.
Democrats and Republicans have been sparring over immigration for years. There are an estimated 11 million foreigners living and working in this country illegally. Comprehensive immigration reform would be positive for the United States and for those families living in the shadows. We’ve advocated for creating a path to legal status or citizenship for many of those people who have clean records. We’re not holding our breath that it will happen soon.
More recently, we have pushed for a smaller step: providing protections for young immigrants without documents who were brought to the U.S. as children. A deal to fund the government that gives Trump wall money in exchange for maintaining the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, has seemed within sight at times. If Trump and Congress can reach that kind of compromise, all sides could take a bow.
What shouldn’t happen is another shutdown that curtails services and punishes federal workers. Congress, Mr. President: Do your jobs and keep the government operating.
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