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GOP senator: Inaction on DACA is 'an indictment of us in Congress'

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., speaks to WGXA from Capitol Hill on April 25, 2018. (WGXA)

As the battle over the future of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program continues to wind through the federal court system, members of Congress remain frustrated by the legislative branch’s failure to address the issue.

“We do want this debate to happen and we do believe the American people deserve their member of Congress doing their job and taking up legislation, debating it, making changes to it, and voting on it,” said Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.

President Donald Trump announced last fall that he would end the program, which provided legal protection for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, in March, but his executive order to do so has since been entangled in lawsuits.

A third federal judge blocked Trump’s efforts to shut down the program Tuesday, ruling that the Department of Homeland Security must start accepting new applications. That order is delayed 90 days, though, giving the administration time to file a new memo arguing its position.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the ruling "horrible news for our national security."

Previously, other judges had ordered the Trump administration to continue processing renewals for those already in the program.

According to Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., those rulings removed the urgency that could have precipitated a breakthrough on the issue.

“I wish the courts would have left the original deadline in March because Congress would have been able to work in a bipartisan way to fix the program,” he said.

However, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said the courts are rightly taking up the matter because bipartisan efforts in Congress were derailed by politics.

“They are the backstop,” she said. They are protecting our Dreamers and our families, and they will continue to do so.”

Even as he sought to end DACA, President Trump has publicly urged Congress to act to protect so-called Dreamers as part of a broader package that would also reform border security and legal immigration policies. Democrats have offered funding for Trump’s much-promised border wall in exchange for permanent legal status for Dreamers, but the two sides have so far been unable to reach an agreement.

In February, the Senate held a multiday floor debate and a series of votes on proposed compromises, but none received enough support to pass. Bipartisan proposals opposed by the president won more votes than the conservative measures backed by the White House, though.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., placed blame on Democrats for the chamber’s immigration gridlock.

“I’m terribly disappointed in what the Democrats did when we had the chance to get relief for the 1.8 million kids that we had relief for and made a deal with on the wall,” he said.

In the highly partisan atmosphere leading up to the midterm elections, Isakson suggested that may have been the last opportunity for progress this year.

“When that failed, it pretty much sent the signal to me that politics is going to drive immigration again this year, which means nothing will get done,” he said. “That’s an indictment of us in Congress.”

Democrats stress that this crisis was precipitated by the Trump administration’s decision to stop defending the legality of the program against legal challenges by Republican-led states.

In the ruling issued Tuesday, Judge John Bates concluded that DHS had failed to "adequately explain its conclusion that the program was unlawful” and that the decision to shutter DACA was “arbitrary and capricious.”

In a statement, the Justice Department maintained that DHS acted within its lawful authority to promote and enforce the rule of law.

“The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend this position, and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation,” a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, in the House, a bipartisan proposal to bring several measures to the floor for debate continues to gain steam. According to Valadao, the plan to hold a “queen of the hill” debate on immigration has more than 50 Republican co-sponsors and broad Democratic support.

“We’re just trying to get enough support so leadership will pay attention,” he said.

Similar to the immigration debate the Senate held in February, this plan would put four bills up for votes and the one that gets the most would pass. These would include legislation sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that meets all of President Trump’s demands; a version of the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill that has languished in Congress for years; another bipartisan bill cosponsored by Valadao that focuses narrowly on Dreamers and increased border security; and whatever legislation Speaker Paul Ryan wants to introduce.

“It forces Congress to do its job and bring the bills up on the floor,” Valadao said of the queen of the hill proposal. “There is the ability to make amendments and changes and then move them on.”

There is no guarantee that any legislation passed through this process would have the votes to get through the Senate or the support of the president, but Valadao said it at least would give House members who want to solve this problem a chance at getting something to Trump’s desk for a signature.

Others have much lower expectations.

“I do not believe that immigration reform will happen…,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev. “They’re not going to do it now before the election. Republicans have made that pretty clear.”

Though Isakson shares Titus’ pessimism about Congress getting anything done before November, he also suggested that lawmakers are abdicating their responsibility by leaving important issues like DACA in the hands of the courts.

“We should have the will and fortitude to see it get done, not protract it,” he said. “And that’s what we should have done on DACA.”

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