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Democrats Want Protection For DREAMers Included In Government Funding Bill


We are again just a few days away from a potential government shutdown. A deal in Congress to keep the government open is being threatened by a debate over immigration, specifically over protections for immigrants known as DREAMers. These are the roughly 700,000 people who are in the U.S. illegally and who were brought here as children. NPR's Kelsey Snell has more from Capitol Hill.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Nobody on Capitol Hill says they want a shutdown, but as President Trump said today...


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It could happen. The Democrats are really looking at something that is very dangerous for our country. They are looking at shutting down. They want to have illegal immigrants, in many cases, people that we don't want in our country. They want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country.

SNELL: Democrats say that's wrong on multiple counts. Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was downplaying the threat of a shutdown.


CHUCK SCHUMER: We don't think we're going to get to that. There are good negotiations occurring between Democrats and Republicans to come up with a good DACA program as well as some good border security.

SNELL: This whole fight started in September when Trump rescinded DACA, the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program started by President Obama. At the time, Trump said it was up to Congress to pass a law on the issue, and he gave them until March to work out a deal to protect DREAMers. Republican leaders have promised to pass some kind of immigration bill early next year. But activists and many Democrats are specific. They want a path to citizenship, and they say they're tired of waiting.

KAMALA HARRIS: I'm not sure what to think about where this administration stands, but I know that we as a country and as leaders in this country, and particularly in the United States Congress, need to stand with these DREAMers and give them the protections they deserve. And we need to do this before the end of the year.

SNELL: That's California Democrat Kamala Harris speaking at an immigration rally outside the Capitol today. Democrats don't have much leverage in Congress, but one place they do have a lot of power is over a spending bill. Senate Republicans do not have enough votes to keep the government open on their own. Democrats could demand an immigration deal in exchange for their votes. The No. 2 Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, says that combining the two could risk any hope of a bipartisan deal on immigration.


JOHN CORNYN: We are certainly willing to enter into those good faith negotiations, but they do not belong in a end-of-the-year spending appropriations debate.

SNELL: There's reason to believe a bipartisan solution is possible. A number of Senate and House Republicans say they want a deal. That's why activists like Jeremy Robbins of the group New American Economy say this is a perfect time for Congress to act.

JEREMY ROBBINS: This is not a hard policy issue. There is huge and broad support to find a solution. And so absolutely we think there should be a solution now.

SNELL: His group is working with people on the right and the left. They say they don't want a government shutdown either, but they do want an immigration bill this month. The groups set up what they were calling a war room inside the Capitol today. It amounted to a pair of rooms where lawmakers could tape messages to be aired back home.


ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Hi. I'm Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. I'm joining the iMarch because we need to find solutions to our nation's current immigration problems, starting with a solution for DREAMers.

SNELL: The whole idea is to build outside pressure to get a deal before Congress leaves for the holidays. Whether that can happen without shutting down the government might become clearer tomorrow when Trump meets with congressional leaders at the White House. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.