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Cornyn blasts congressional Democrats' government shutdown threats

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Monday blasted Democrats for threatening to shut down the federal government under the guise of helping undocumented immigrants.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, at the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Monday blasted Democrats for threatening to shut down the federal government under the guise of helping undocumented immigrants whose protected status in this country is slipping away.

Some Democrats have threatened to shut down the government if lawmakers don’t include legislation that protects young undocumented immigrants, known as "Dreamers," in budget bills that need to be passed this month.

During a floor speech, Cornyn said those lawmakers are turning their backs on the very people they purport to be helping. 

“That’s simply a hysterical and cynical ploy – putting their party and their agenda ahead of the nation,” Cornyn said. “How can you claim to care about the 800,000 undocumented immigrants that this program protects through work permits and deportation relief but then turn your back on the 322 million people who need to know that their government is still able to function?”

Democrats have demanded that any spending bills, whether a short-term fix or a broader budget bill, include some version of the DREAM Act — legislation that would provide legal residency and an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented youth who meet certain guidelines. The demand for the legislation increased after President Donald Trump announced in October he was ending the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That program, known as DACA, granted qualified applicants — including about 124,000 Texans — a work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings. The program is set to expire in March.

As a Texas, Cornyn said he understands the urgency. But he said he and his GOP colleagues also want to pass some immigration-enforcement legislation, including border security, interior enforcement, and improvements on workforce screenings

But immigrant rights groups are greeting Republicans’ insistence that there is time to act on the issue next year with great suspicion. They say all that means is that conservatives have more time to come up with a reason to fail the Dreamers. 

“If Congress doesn’t do it now — by attaching Dreamer legislation to must-pass legislation this year — it’s highly unlikely they are going to do it at all,” reads a statement Monday from America’s Voice, a Washington-based group that advocates for immigration reform. “If Republicans somehow manage to kick the can to next spring, what’s predictable is that they’ll load up an inadequate DACA fix with enough poison pills to ensure opposition.”

Cornyn’s comments come after U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., last week declined to attend a scheduled meeting at the White House after President Donald Trump claimed on Twitter that the pair was soft on illegal immigration, weak on crime and in favor of more taxes.

But on Monday the invitation was extended yet again, according to news reports, and the Democrats said they hoped they could come to an agreement on immigration and host of other issues.

“We’re glad the White House has reached out and asked for a second meeting. We hope the president will go into this meeting with an open mind, rather than deciding that an agreement can’t be reached beforehand,” the pair said in a joint statement.

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