Under normal circumstances, much of the work during the first few weeks of a new Congress centers on ceremonial and organizational activities. However, with more than one-fourth of the federal government shut down due to a dispute between Congress and the President over immigration-related funding priorities, policy matters -- and immigration policy matters, specifically -- have been thrust into the forefront of the opening days of this Congress.
Among those yet to be enacted are three of the four bills that fund the federal government’s immigration enforcement-, border security-, immigration services-, refugee admissions-, and overseas refugee-assistance-related departments, agencies, programs, functions, and activities.
The shutdown melodrama has been animated by a conflict between President Donald J. Trump and Congress over the President's demand that Congress appropriate a $5.7 BILLION down payment on the construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico before he will sign legislation re-opening the shuttered departments, agencies, and functions, of the federal government. That drama guarantees that the opening days and weeks of the hew Congress will be focused on the subject of immigration. And it carries with it the danger that the new Congress will wind up tackling seismic immigration-related issues of legalization, asylum policy, and the future of family-based immigration early in its tenure.
Once Congress gets past the shutdown showdown, the first immigration-, refugee-, and human trafficking-related legislation that Congress is likely to tackle will come in the House, which is expected to take up legislation to protect DREAMers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders in its first several months. With an 18 seat-majority in the House, it would appear that Democrats will be able to muster the necessary votes to accomplish those goals. But with 31 Democrats sitting in seats won by President Trump in the 2016 presidential election, nothing is certain. And even if the House manages to pass DREAM Act and TPS legislation, the prospects for such measures in the Senate appear poor.
Fasten your seat belts. For those interested in immigration and refugee policy, the 116th Congress promises to be a turbulent ride.