No DACA, No Wall: How the Omnibus Spending Bill Left Both Sides of the Immigration Fight Empty-Handed

President Donald Trump was far from the only one in Washington left with a sullen face as a spending bill was finally signed Friday afternoon.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle turned up empty-handed when Trump reluctantly signed an omnibus spending bill that didn't include sufficient funds for his border wall, and didn't defund "sanctuary cities" nor provide any solution on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Now, without the threat of a government shutdown and a trillion-dollar budget proposal to motivate Republicans and Democrats to bargain in good faith on immigration, lawmakers are back at square one and more frustrated than ever at having to resolve a problem many say Trump created himself.

"The president has rejected at least six or seven bipartisan solutions that have been presented to him," Congressional Hispanic Caucus whip Pete Aguilar (the Democrat from California) told Newsweek on Friday. "We need to be clear: Democrats and Republicans are scrambling to clean up a mess created by the administration's anti-immigrant agenda."

Trump rescinded DACA suddenly in September, giving lawmakers on Capitol Hill until March 5 to come up with legislation that would give Dreamers a path forward and accommodate his own immigration policy demands. (DACA recipients are often called Dreamers, after the DREAM Act—Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors—which offered many of the same protections but never passed Congress.) Since then, legislators have struggled to reach a compromise that will satisfy the majority of their parties on Trump's timeline. The Supreme Court's decision to stay out of DACA disputes didn't help move things along either, effectively relieving pressure on members of Congress to come up with a solution for the program's recipients.

Amid calls for bipartisanship, the president has continued to blame Democrats for the impasse on DACA.

"DACA recipients have been treated extremely badly by Democrats," Trump said during a press conference Friday afternoon, after threatening to veto the omnibus bill on Twitter earlier that morning. "We wanted to include DACA and include them in this bill...[but] the Democrats would not do it."

Trump and some Republicans, meanwhile, complained that the bill neither adequately funded the wall nor defunded so-called "sanctuary cities."

See my full statement announcing my intention to vote against the disastrous omnibus spending bill here —>

— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) March 22, 2018

.@realDonaldTrump I stand with you, Mr. President. Veto this #omnibus and let's fund the wall and get a better deal for the American people.

— Rep. Ted Budd (@RepTedBudd) March 23, 2018

Lawmakers like Aguilar say the president risks pushing members of Congress further back into their respective corners by stoking the flames of partisan politics.

"If anyone thinks the president is going to play a positive role in the conversation on Dreamers they're making a huge mistake," Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) told Newsweek. "Part of the strategy has to be to ignore him."

I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2018

Grijalva and Aguilar plan to do just that.

Both congressmen have proposed creative solutions to bring a clean, stand-alone DREAM Act, to a vote, like invoking the Queen of the Hill rule, which would allow members of Congress to debate every DACA bill that's been proposed so far. That would include Aguilar's own bipartisan legislation, which he co-sponsored with Texas Republican Will Hurd in January. The bill would give DACA recipients a path to citizenship and give the Department of Homeland Security "operational control" of the southern border by the end of 2020 through "physical barriers" and other means.

Political strategists say resolving DACA is crucial for members of both parties, especially as midterm elections draw near.

"Democrats and any interested Republicans should be working hard to put legislation together so they can tell voters, 'Hey, we're trying to work on this,'" Matt Barreto, the co-founder of research firm Latino Decisions, told Newsweek. Barreto says if there's still no solution by November, Republicans may be the ones to pay the price, because it's Democrats, he says, who have the "winning card" when it comes time to debate immigration issues.

Still, some Democrats have already expressed worry that a disillusioned Latino electorate could cost them the key seats they need to win to flip at least one chamber of Congress. But in the immediate aftermath of another failed DACA deal, Grivalja and Aguilar worry most about the everyday lives of the families in their district, who make up the more than 700,000 DACA recipients across the country.

"Maybe some people on either side of the aisle would rather not have any action on this and would rather focus on the November elections," Aguilar said. "But we owe it to our communities to get a permanent solution for this issue, and I think we can. There's always plenty of time for politics."

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts