WASHINGTON: The hopes of hundreds of thousands of "Dreamers" were on hold on Monday as lawmakers missed an initial deadline for resolving the fate of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that shields nearly 700,000 of the immigrants from deportation was supposed to expire on March 5, six months after President Donald Trump announced he was ending it.
But a US District Court judge issued a nationwide injunction that requires the government to allow recipients to renew their permits to live and work in the country, and the US Supreme Court declined to accept the administration's request to intervene. Both those developments have taken the pressure off lawmakers.
With courts unlikely to rule definitively on the issue before summer, and the case expected to head to the Supreme Court after that, Congress is not expected to act before Election Day in November.
Immigration advocates have used the unmet deadline as an inflection point to pressure Congress and the White House. Hundreds of activists and Dreamers descended on Washington to press lawmakers into action.
"March 5 is the deadline Trump gave the Congress to act and they haven't done anything," Bruna Bouhid, a 26-year-old student and Dreamer from Tampa, told AFP as she and others marched from the Washington Mall to the US Capitol.
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"We are here to make sure they don't forget about us."
Alexandra Gonzalez, 21, held up a sign with a photo of her cousin Edder Sanchez, a DACA recipient whom she had been detained and accepted voluntary repatriation.
"We have to press harder to get an immigration law, we want a permanent solution and a path to citizenship," she said.
Immigration-related demonstrations took place in several other cities on Monday too, including New York.
"Stop playing with our lives!" Lizbeth Huitzil, a young Mexican woman, in a protest in front of Trump Tower.
Lawmakers had every opportunity to legislate a fix, but the fate of Dreamers has proved too divisive for Congress to resolve.
Last month, Democrats essentially forced a brief government shutdown over the issue, demanding that the Senate's Republican leaders set aside time to debate immigration.
They agreed, but despite one week of floor debate last month, the Senate failed to pass any of a series of proposals addressing Dreamers, and House Speaker Paul Ryan has not brought a legislative solution to the floor for a vote.
Among the Senate bills that did not advance was a Trump-backed plan that would provide a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers — the nearly 700,000 DACA registrants, plus 1.1 million who did not register — in exchange for extra border security funding and dramatic curtailment of legal immigration.
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Several congressional Democrats and immigration advocates have warned that despite the court injunction, DACA recipients remain in legal uncertainty thanks to a crisis of Trump's making.
"Without a permanent solution, Trump's cruel and reckless decision will tear more families apart, shatter communities, drive immigrants into the shadows, and make us all less safe as a result," Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham urged "all our colleagues to support the fair, permanent, and narrow bipartisan bills that protect Dreamers and which have the votes to pass the House and Senate."
The American Civil Liberties Union has partnered with immigration rights groups to launch a campaign on social and online media that demands Trump support viable legislation that protects Dreamers.
"Fix what you broke before it's too late," the group said in a new ad.
Congress was already moving on. The Senate considers several judicial nominees this week, negotiations over federal spending are ongoing, and lawmakers are mulling over whether to reform gun laws in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting in Florida.