Though Congress has only days left to pass a budget to prevent another government shutdown, a key issue in last month’s stoppage — immigration — remains in limbo. That uncertainty has many undocumented residents and Democratic lawmakers on edge.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a longtime champion of immigration policies that would provide the undocumented more opportunities to become permanent residents, delivered a 30-minute address at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Thursday evening about the importance of keeping the country’s doors open to the world. He also addressed the challenges that supporters of undocumented residents face in pushing “clean” legislation past a Republican-controlled Congress and a president who wants to build a wall along the southern U.S. border.
After the 72-hour shutdown of the federal government ended Jan. 22 without action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised that, if his branch did not reached a bipartisan agreement on immigration by Feb. 8, he would allow a bill addressing the matter to be brought on the floor for debate.
“So we’re at the point now where we have a chance, but only a chance,” said Durbin, who as the longtime minority whip is the second-most-powerful Democrat in the Senate after Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The low-key Durbin, who was introduced by Harvard President Drew Faust, found himself in the headlines last month after he told reporters that President Trump had referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and the nations of Africa as “[expletive]-hole countries” during a White House meeting with legislators over immigration. The president and his allies denied that he made the disparaging comment, but public outcry brought the fraught issue of immigration, and what critics see as the racially motivated undertones of the administration’s immigration policies, back to the front burner. On Thursday, Durbin declined to discuss the president’s language, but did offer a detailed account of the circumstances that led to the Jan. 11 meeting.