Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) took part in a breakfast in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on January 21, 2019. Photo: Congresswoman Deb Haaland

Mark Trahant: Indian lawmakers remain at odds over border wall and shutdown

Debate about border, government shutdown moves to the Senate
Senate could finally weigh in on the government shutdown, putting members on record with a vote
By Mark Trahant
Indian Country Today

The Senate will finally debate its solution to the longest government shutdown and history. The Senate will vote on President Donald J. Trump’s proposal to fund the government, including $5.7 billion for some of the border wall.

But it’s not the “beautiful” border wall from the Trump campaign. As the president put it: “This is not a 2,000-mile concrete structure from sea to sea. These are steel barriers in high-priority locations. Much of the border is already protected by natural barriers such as mountains and water. We already have many miles of barrier, including 115 miles that we are currently building or under contract. It will be done quickly. Our request will add another 230 miles this year in the areas our border agents most urgently need. It will have an unbelievable impact.”

The Senate will also vote for a three-year “legislative relief” for the 700,000 young people who came to the United States without authorization, those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. But that Trump proposal comes at a time when the DACA situation is already before the federal courts. And the administration is required to continue the program until the legal challenges are resolved.

The president also said his proposal includes a three-year extension of Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. “This means that 300,000 immigrants whose protected status is facing expiration will now have three more years of certainty so that Congress can work on a larger immigration deal, which everybody wants — Republicans and Democrats,” the president said.

Congress set up the Temporary Protected Status as a way to protect people who come from countries where there lives are in danger from an armed conflict, an environmental crisis, or a temporary crisis. The Trump administration redefined this program and eliminated six countries with nearly all the participants. A federal judge has blocked the administration from deporting people cut from the program, more than 300,000.

Critics say the president's proposal does not advance a solution to either the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or Temporary Protected Status programs.

The Senate action, if it passes, could set up an interesting next step. "Everyone has made their point—now it's time to make a law," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said over the weekend.

McConnell had said he would not call up legislation unless it has support from the president. He has refused to even consider several bills to reopen the government passed by the House.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called the president’s proposal a “non-starter.” The speaker said she is willing to negotiate immigration and border issues, but only after the government is reopened.

In a news release, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, Laguna Pueblo, said it’s unfair to hold federal workers hostage and called the president’s proposal a “false compromise and pulled Dreamers onto the list of people he’s holding hostage for his fantasy.”

She said: “It’s only fair that President Trump signs the bill The House passed on day one to pay federal workers and contractors, then we can discuss border security. When I talk to families in New Mexico, they tell me about the need for quality public education, good paying jobs, and access to quality health care — the wall is not a solution to those concerns.”

However on the Republican side, Rep. Tom Cole from Oklahoma, Chickasaw, called the proposal “a real compromise.”

“The plan includes things both sides agree need to be solved,” Cole said. “It would provide legal status for DACA recipients — something that Democrats have long demanded. In addition, it would provide money for physical barriers, technology, infrastructure and personnel that are much needed to secure our southern border. Finally, it would immediately reopen the government, so negotiations on other matters of national importance can proceed.”

He said: “Thus far, Democrats have been determined to put political fights ahead of the critical need to strengthen border security. President Trump is clearly trying to negotiate in good faith with Democratic leadership in order to end this painful government shutdown. For the good of the entire country, I hope Democrats finally come to their senses, work with Republicans and the president to enact real solutions and finally reopen the government.”

Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation, also called for the House to support the president.

“After a conference call with the President Trump, I believe his offer is a win-win for both sides: national security and DACA,” he said in a news release. “The Democrats’ number one issue for years has been fixing DACA. Now, they have an opportunity to fix it. Let’s see what they do with it. Or, we’ll see if it’s really just all politics to them.”

Indian Country Today is compiling #ShutdownStories from tribal communities and others affected by the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

Spreadsheets: Impact of shutdown on tribal communities | Impact on individuals, nonprofits

Mark Trahant is the editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports.

This story originally appeared on Indian Country Today.

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