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Is a deal on DACA slipping away?

Win McNamee/Getty

Congress is weeks away from two crucial deadlines. On February 8, it will once again hit a government funding cliff; as part of the deal to extend the debt ceiling made earlier this month, Mitch McConnell pledged to bring an immigration bill to the floor no later than that date. If no deal is reached in February, March 5 looms large—that’s the deadline that Trump set for action when he terminated the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program in September. If no deal is reached by March 5, deportations could begin.

Because of a court ruling made earlier this year, it’s possible that there’s a bit more time on the clock. In January, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered the Trump administration to continue accepting renewals of DACA status. The Department of Justice complied, suggesting that Congress might have more leeway.

But with the clock ticking, Congress isn’t remotely close to a deal to protect the so-called DREAMers covered by DACA, despite months of negotiations. Some heralded the plan released by the Trump administration last week as a breakthrough. But there are signs that it was never a serious offer and was instead conceived for largely political reasons. The deal proposed by the administration contained poison pills for both the right (legal status for some DACA recipients) and the left (drastic changes to legal immigration). It allowed the White House to make the argument that it was seeking a compromise, but the deal itself isn’t realistic.

Democrats, meanwhile, seem to be realizing that March 5 may pass without a deal. They remain insistent that the only deal on the table is one that exchanges beefed-up border security for protections for DACA recipients. Republicans are insisting that any deal include ending the visa lottery, “chain migration,” and also restrictions on legal immigration. Chuck Schumer told The Washington Post that he’s charting his own course for a DACA fix. “Unless Donald Trump realizes that the kind of deal I offered is good for him, it’s better that he stays away,” Schumer said. “If he disappears, we still, I think, have a very good chance to pass things, as long as he doesn’t mess it all up, which could very well happen.”

But the Post also reports that Schumer is focused on protecting vulnerable Democrats who are up for reelection in 2018—many of whom are running in states where immigration is not a winning issue. That suggests that he may not be willing to shut the government down over DACA in February, as Democrats briefly did in January. With time running out, hopes for a deal are dwindling, with the potential to leave hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants in limbo and at risk of being deported.