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DACA's March 5 'deadline' marks only inaction

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It's been six months since President Donald Trump moved to end a program that protected young undocumented immigrants from deportation, and Washington seems to be no closer to a resolution on the day everything was supposed to be solved by.

March 5 was originally conceived to be a deadline of sorts for action. When Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September, he created a six-month delay to give Congress time to come up with a legislative version of the policy, which protected young undocumented immigrants who had come to the US as children.

The Department of Homeland Security was going to renew two-year DACA permits that expired before March 5, and Monday was to be the day after which those permits began expiring for good.

But multiple federal judges ruled that the justification the Trump administration was using to terminate the program was shaky at best -- and ordered DHS to resume renewing all existing DACA permits. And the Supreme Court declined the administration's unusual request to leapfrog the appellate courts and consider immediately whether to overrule those decisions.

That court intervention effectively rendered the March 5 deadline meaningless -- and, paired with a dramatic failure on the Senate floorto pass a legislative fix, the wind has been mostly taken out of the sails of any potential compromise.

Activists are still marking Monday with demonstrations and advocacy campaigns. Hundreds of DACA supporters were expected to descend on Washington to push for action.

But the calls for a fix stand in contrast with the lack of momentum for any progress in Washington, with little likelihood of that changing in the near future. Congress has a few options lingering on the back burner, but none are showing signs of imminent movement.

March 23 is the next government funding deadline, and some lawmakers have suggested they may try to use the must-pass package of funding bills as a point of leverage.

But sources close to the process say it's more likely that efforts will be made to keep a bad deal out of the omnibus spending measure than to come up with a compromise to attach to it, as no solution has a clear path to passing either chamber and the House Republican leadership has opposed attaching any immigration matter to a spending deal.

"I have a feeling that anything that goes with the omnibus is going to be a punt, so I'm not excited about that. That's not my goal," Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican who has been one of the loudest voices pushing for a DACA fix on the GOP side, told reporters last week.

In the Senate, Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, and Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, have introduced a bill that would give three-year extension to the DACA program along with three years of border security funding, though that legislation has yet to pick up any momentum and many lawmakers remain hesitant to give up on a more permanent fix. The Senate is also still feeling the residual effect of the failure of a bipartisan group to get 60 votes for a negotiated compromise bill, which suffered from a relentless opposition campaign from the administration. Trump's preferred bill failed to get even 40 votes, far fewer than the bipartisan group's.

On the House side of the Capitol, a more conservative bill than even Trump's proposal has been taking up the focus. The legislation from Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, and others contains a number of hardline positions and no pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, and it fails to have enough Republican votes even to pass the House. It is considered dead on arrival in the Senate.

But conservatives in the House, buoyed by the President's vocal support for the bill, have gotten leadership's commitment to whip the measure, and leadership has been complying for now. According to lawmakers and sources familiar, House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, talked about the bill in a GOP conference meeting during the House's short workweek last week, and continued to discuss ways to get enough votes.

Lawmakers estimate that at this point, the measure had somewhere between 150 and 170 votes in its favor, far fewer than the 218 it would need. But the bill's authors are working with leadership to see whether it can be changed enough to lock up more, even as moderates and Democrats remain skeptical it can get there.

"The vote count is looking better every day," said Rep. Jim Jordan, a conservative Ohio Republican who has been a vocal advocate for the bill. "I think if leadership puts the full weight of leadership behind it, we can get there. ... The most recent report I've heard is whip count is getting better."

Moderate Republicans, however, are holding out hope that the party can move on from that bill and seek something that could survive the Senate and become law.

"Bring up the Goodlatte bill that went through Judiciary. If it does not have 218 votes, then let's go to the next one that makes sense for DACA," said Rep. Jeff Denham, a California Republican who has supported a compromise on DACA.

In the meantime, most think DACA recipients will continue in limbo, especially with the courts ensuring that renewals can continue for now.

"It's good news for people in the DACA program, because they can continue renewing their permits. I have mixed feelings on what it means for us here, because we know this institution sometimes only works as deadlines approach, and now there isn't a deadline," Curbelo said.