Senior Democrat: 'Dreamers' issue unresolved but government shutdown unlikely

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The No. 2 U.S. Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, said on Sunday he did not expect to have a deal protecting young immigrants before government funding expires this week but that a shutdown over the issue was unlikely.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), listens during a bipartisan meeting with legislators on immigration reform at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

The U.S. Congress has made no notable progress toward a deal on the status of the 700,000 “Dreamers,” people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

Durbin said he did not believe a deal could be reached by Thursday, when U.S. government funding expires and lawmakers must pass another spending measure to keep the lights on at federal facilities.

“There is not likely to be a DACA deal, though we’re working every single day, on telephone calls and person to person, to try to reach this bipartisan agreement,” Durbin said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

A partisan standoff over the issue caused a partial government shutdown for three days last month after Congress failed to pass a stopgap spending measure.

Democrats voted to allow the government to reopen with another temporary funding measure after assurances from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would put an immigration bill up for debate.

“I don’t see a government shutdown coming, but I do see a promise by Senator McConnell to finally bring this critical issue that affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in America, finally bringing it to a full debate in the Senate,” Durbin said.

Durbin, who has been working with Senate Republicans on an immigration compromise, said members of both parties had been working together to solve the issue.

“I think we’re making real progress,” he said on CNN.

Democrats have said repeatedly that they want protections written into law for the Dreamers, who were given temporary legal status by former Democratic President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which lets them study and work in the United States without fear of deportation.

Trump said last September that he would end the program by March 5 and he urged Congress to act before that date.

On Friday, Trump said a deal on DACA “could very well not happen” by Thursday’s deadline. [L2N1PS20I]

Trump and many conservatives in Congress insist that any legislation to help Dreamers contain at least three other elements: beefed-up border security including the construction of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, the termination of a visa lottery program and an end to the awarding of visas for immigrants’ parents and siblings.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Peter Cooney