Immigration tensions build in US Congress as shutdown looms

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — With just two days before the US government runs out of money, and President Donald Trump feuding with Democrats over immigration, Republican congressional leaders were left scrambling Wednesday to avoid a federal shutdown.

A bipartisan deal on immigration that would shield nearly a million people from deportation lay in tatters after the president’s reported use of vulgar language during a tense White House meeting last week set off clashes between Trump and key Democrats, including Senator Dick Durbin.

Democrats have warned they want a budget agreement to include an immigration deal that protects the so-called “dreamers” who were brought to the country illegally as children.

Up against a Friday midnight deadline, Republicans were now angling for passing a bill that extends federal spending into mid-February and re-authorizes the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, with no immigration-related measure included.

“I feel that it makes no sense for Democrats to try and bring us to a shutdown,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told a press briefing, seeking to pin the blame on the opposition as the deadline loomed.

“I think cool heads hopefully will prevail on this.”

But even that stop-gap measure could face opposition from far-right conservatives in the House.

“There is currently not enough support for the latest leadership initiative,” congressman Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told The Hill on Tuesday.

Ryan will have to win over key skeptics to get the temporary spending bill passed, particularly if Democrats unanimously oppose a bill with no agreement to protect dreamers.

The speaker, one of Trump’s most important lieutenants on Capitol Hill, is well aware of how poorly a shutdown will reflect on the Republican Party, which controls both houses of Congress and the White House, just months ahead of crucial mid-term elections in November.

Ryan insisted he wanted to resolve the immigration issue before the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program expires on March 5.

“We want to fix DACA in a balanced way so that we don’t have the same problem down the road,” Ryan said, adding that “good faith negotiations are underway” between congressional leaders from both parties who were scheduled to meet later Wednesday.

Meanwhile, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with White House officials including chief of staff John Kelly early Wednesday in a bid to break the impasse on immigration and find a permanent solution for the dreamers.

Trump has made their mission no easier, as he took to Twitter Tuesday to say “The Democrats want to shut down the Government over Amnesty for all.”

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