The federal government shutdown ended Monday after the U.S. Senate agreed to a short-term extension of the debt limit through Feb. 8. Parties reached agreement after agreeing to tackle immigration legislation in the weeks ahead.

Legislative landscape: Deep policy differences remain

Neither the House nor the Senate has passed immigration addressing the status of Dreamers, and the bases of both parties remain far apart. The primary legislative vehicle for Republicans in the House is Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) Securing America’s Future Act (H.R.4760), while Democrats in the Senate have rallied behind the bipartisan “Gang of 6” proposal. Within the next 17 days, both chambers of Congress will need to resolve stark policy differences or set those issues to the side. For example:

  • The Gang of 6 seeks a 12-year path to citizenship for Dreamers, while the Goodlatte bill offers no path to a green card or citizenship.
  • The Gang of 6 proposes $2.7 billion in border wall funding, while the Goodlatte bill seeks $100 billion in funding over four years.
  • The Gang of 6 seeks minor changes in legal immigration, while the Goodlatte bill would result in the most significant reduction in family-based immigration in a century.
  • The Gang of 6 would not alter the current immigration enforcement landscape, while the Goodlatte bill would render all unlawful immigrants criminals, which would then subject them to detention by any state or local official following arrest.
  • Behind the scenes, Senate and House leadership continues to discuss opportunities for common ground. Whether those discussions can lead to a political breakthrough is unknown.

Dramatic reductions in legal immigration: Likely outcome or bargaining chip?

A key sticking point in negotiations is whether relief for Dreamers should be packaged with changes to the legal immigration system. The White House and Republicans in both the Senate and the House are seeking significant reductions in family-based immigration levels, which they often refer to as “chain migration.” Those proposals are not minor tweaks. If enacted, those proposals would constitute the most significant reduction in legal immigration in a century. Goodlatte’s bill would reduce overall legal immigration levels by approximately 45 percent, and family-based immigration would drop by approximately 62 percent. A full analysis of the Goodlatte bill is available here.

Though advocates for reduced immigration levels are well funded and have extensive influence on immigration policy, it is unclear whether that issue will become part of any Dreamer compromise.

BAL Analysis: The short-term extension does not resolve the pressing question: Will the immigration legislative debate evolve into a kitchen soup “comprehensive” debate or will the parties agree to scale it back to a discussion over relief for Dreamers, border security and tweaks to the system? President Donald Trump remains the wild card in the debate, as both parties believe that his support can be secured.