When the last government shutdown ended a month ago with no deal to protect the hundreds of thousands of immigrants covered by the soon-to-expire Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Democrats reassured their base by insisting that they had preserved their leverage. Government funding would run out a month later, after all. The Senate would pass a budget that would require dozens of Democratic votes in the House, which could then be translated into a deal on both immigration and spending. When House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi embarked on an eight-hour filibuster on Thursday, in which she demanded that House Speaker Paul Ryan take action on DACA, it seemed to be a part of this plan: House Democrats would hold out support for a budget deal until Ryan agreed to hold a vote that would ultimately provide legal protections to those covered by DACA.
Early Friday morning, Congress passed a two-year budget, which President Donald Trump then signed into law, ending a brief government shutdown. No progress was made on DACA. In retrospect, Pelosi’s filibuster now looks like it came from a place of weakness, rather than strength. After she and others in Democratic leadership had made assurances to their base and rank-and-file members that they had the upper hand, it was clear that they simply couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tie the budget negotiations to DACA once again.
DACA expires on March 5. Trump has suggested that people covered by the program shouldn’t worry about being deported or losing work permits, but the administration is already taking action against some. And while the threat of a government shutdown has been taken off the table, there’s no indication that Republicans won’t continue using people covered by the program as hostages as they demand changes to legal immigration, funding for a border wall, and other measures. The dynamic for Republicans hasn’t changed, in other words. But Democrats have lost a key piece of leverage.