MINNEAPOLIS -- The fate of 880,000 young immigrants, known as "Dreamers," remained in limbo Monday in the wake of an agreement to end the federal government shutdown.
The Senate and House both passed a continuing budget resolution, to keep the government open through February 8. The shutdown began three days when Senate Democrats held out, in hopes of forcing action on the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
The stalemate in the Senate ended early Monday, due to a bipartisan agreement to at least debate the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program before the next shutdown threat arrives. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky agreed to allow debate on DACA before the next shutdown threat arrives Feb. 8.
"We really had two goals here, one was to keep working on the long-term budget, so we could get the opioid funding we need, community health centers, and then secondly is to something done on the Dreamers," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, explained.
Sen. Klobuchar was part of the group of 20 Democrats and Republicans who worked throughout the weekend to find a way to reopen the government, while keeping hopes alive for the immigrants enrolled in the DACA program.
"Republicans who were not on the bill before, people like Senator Mike Rounds, former governor of South Dakota, is now with me in the Senate," Klobuchar told KARE, explaining why she felt hopeful DACA will make it through the Senate.
"And people like Johnny Isakson, the Republican senator from Georgia, were with us on getting something done on the Dreamers, so we don’t have 800,000 people deported."
The DACA program, started by then-President Barack Obama in 2012, allows undocumented immigrants brought here as children before 2007 to go to school and work legally. Obama created the program by executive order after years of attempts to pass the Dreamers' Act failed in Congress.
In September of 2017, President Donald Trump ended the program, effective March 5. Trump said the Dreamers needed to be part of a comprehensive immigration reform package, a set of legislation that should also include funding for an enhanced border security wall between the US and Mexico.
President Trump has maintained that he's still interested in immigration reform, but during the shutdown the Trump Pence reelection campaign launched a new ad calling Democrats "complicit in all murders committed by illegal immigrants."
The ad featured courtroom statements by Luis Bracmontes, an undocumented immigrant on trial for killing sheriff's deputies in the Sacramento area in 2014. Bracmontes has admitted shooting the deputies, and his defense lawyer concedes as much but questions the sanity of the Mexican native.
Other Republicans have criticized DACA, and conflated it with an amnesty program for all undocumented immigrants. Klobuchar pushed back against that idea.
"These people have legally registered with our country, and 97 percent of them are legally working or in school," Klobuchar explained. "When they were brought over here, their average age was six."
The Dreamers have grown up in the United States, gone to schools here, and for the most part are disconnected from families in Mexico. The DACA program allowed them to step out of the shadows and work without fear of deportation.
Klobuchar conceded there's no guarantee the House, where Republicans have a much larger majority, would go along with restoring DACA. But she said if the Senate passes the bill with a strong, bipartisan majority it will put more pressure on the House to act before the March 5 deadline.
On Monday, before the conflict was resolved, Minnesota Republican Erik Paulsen tweeted a photo of a letter he wrote to the House payroll clerk asking that his pay be withheld until the shutdown ends.
Minnesota Democrat Rick Nolan sent a letter to supporters, telling them he was introducing a bill that would automatically strip pay from members of Congress whenever the government shuts down like this.
Gregg James, a national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees, or AFGE, said he agrees with the idea.
"If our congressional representatives were held to the same performance standards as federal employees are held to they’d be looking for work today," James told KARE.
"You have a set deadline when their task is supposed to be complete. I don’t remember when was the last time we had a past budget by October 1st."
James, who has worked in various federal government jobs for 35 years, lives in Minnesota. He said federal legislation in recent years has made it harder for federal employees to appeal terminations and other actions taken by management. He said the tradition of granting employees an opportunity to improve on their performance has fallen by the wayside in many cases.
He said the shutdown furloughs are stressful for government workers who are operating in the dark, in terms of pay and schedules.
"In 2013 we began prepping for the shutdown several weeks prior, so priorities can be shifted, trainings can be delayed," James said.
"Some of our folks didn't receive notice, for instance the Food an Drug Administration people, until Friday afternoon. Many of our Dept. of Defense workers didn't receive notice until Saturday when many of them are not even at work."