Lawmakers scramble on immigration as government shutdown paused

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday sought a way forward on an immigration deal including protection for “Dreamer” immigrants and border security before federal funding runs out again next month.

On Monday, the Republican-led Congress passed a measure signed into law by President Donald Trump to fund the federal government through Feb. 8 following a three-day shutdown. But they will have to return to thorny budget issues that have now become intertwined with contentious immigration policy.

“We don’t have a lot of time in which to get it done,” Republican U.S. Senator Mike Rounds told MSNBC.

Trump himself has vacillated on immigration between tough rhetoric demanding a U.S. border wall and a softer tone urging a “bill of love” for Dreamers, prompting Democrats and some Republicans to call him an unreliable negotiating partner.

“Nobody knows for sure that the Republicans & Democrats will be able to reach a deal on DACA by February 8, but everyone will be trying,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter, referring to when government funding would next run out.

“The Dems have just learned that a Shutdown is not the answer!” Trump added, after calling for “a big additional focus put on Military Strength and Border Security.”

As federal employees returned to work on Tuesday they faced a new furlough in 17 days if lawmakers and Trump do not find another short-term fix or a longer term budget.

A funding bill easily passed after Senate Democratic leaders accepted a pledge by Republicans to hold a debate later over the fate of the Dreamers and related immigration issues.

Many Republicans have said they want to help Dreamer immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

Trump canceled former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that shielded them from deportation. Without congressional action, the program will end in March.

Rounds, along with U.S. Senator Angus King, an independent often aligned with Democrats, said any immigration solution was likely to focus on Dreamers and extra border security.

“We can’t try to do comprehensive immigration in three weeks,” King told MSNBC, adding on CNN that lawmakers were likely to pass another stopgap bill to fund the government.

Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney, however, indicated the White House might be looking for a bigger deal.

“We want a large agreement. We want a big deal that solves the reason that we have a DACA problem in the first place,” Mulvaney said on CNN.

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