Sen. John Cornyn: DACA debate should move forward, but bill's fate remains uncertain

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Wednesday said he thinks lawmakers should keep to their promises to vote on an immigration bill this week. But he added that whether that happens is anyone's guess. 

Protesters against Senate Bill 4, the state's anti-"sanctuary cities" law, march at the Texas Capitol on May 29, 2017. 

Erika Rich for The Texas Tribune

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Wednesday that a federal judge’s decision to keep the Obama-era deferred action program intact shouldn’t slow current efforts on Capitol Hill to advance a bill that codifies protections for undocumented immigrants but also bolsters border security and rolls back current immigration policies.

But the Texas Republican said it's uncertain whether the Senate would get to a vote on a bill this week, and he expressed frustration with Democrats who have since stalled on the negotiations after the government briefly shut down last month over the issue.

“President [Donald] Trump has given a deadline of March 5, [but] there could be some intervening court action,” Cornyn said. “We simply don’t know for sure other than the fact that the president has appropriately said this is a responsibility of Congress and not the executive branch.  So we can’t hide and we can’t run away from this, and I am hopeful that we’ll do it this week.”

Late Tuesday, a federal district judge in New York ruled the Trump administration could not end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was slated to end March 5 after the president announced a six-month phase out of the initiative in September. The New York judge's ruling follows a similar one from a California judge last month. The rulings mean the federal government must continue accepting applications for renewals for the program, but new applications won’t be allowed.

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Republicans and Democrats had high hopes that legislation would be debated and voted on this week. Cornyn said he still looked forward to that but that Democrats are using stall tactics, and that the fate of future legislation was now uncertain.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., objected to a debate on an amendment concerning “sanctuary cities,” according to Politico, which stalled the negotiations. Schumer said the amendment "doesn't address Dreamers, nor does it address border security," the Politico report said. 

Cornyn said Wednesday that it’s still unclear what the Democrats want out of the debate during the time that’s left in the week.

In addition to changes to the current visa lottery system and family reunification programs, Trump has also insisted that border security be included in whatever compromise he signs. Cornyn said that there haven’t been any specifics offered so far on that issue, but that lawmakers have been more receptive to a combination of a barrier, technology and more boots on the ground.

“People are learning more about what combination [on border security] might be needed in given locations, but we’re still talking about those three components,” he said. “I would encourage us not to be too prescriptive here in terms of saying how many miles and where there should be a barrier because I really believe that the experts, the Border Patrol, ought to be the ones to say what is needed.”