It's an open question if there are cards left to play in the push to enshrine the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy into law. While no advocates say they are giving up, many also openly admit that Democrats and allies gave up their best negotiating position on the issue without another clear avenue coming up.
In the meantime, a pending court decision on DACA, which President Donald Trump is terminating, means the immigrants protected by it and who mostly have never known another country than the US, won't begin losing their protections as planned on March 5 -- but their fate could be reversed at any moment by another court decision. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has long served as one of the most outspoken advocates in Congress for immigration reform, was pessimistic with reporters early Friday morning as Congress passed the deal with virtually every Democratic priority except DACA in it.
There is one glimmer of hope for advocates. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made good on his promise to tee up an immigration debate on the Senate floor next week. Moments after the Senate passed the deal, McConnell filed to have a vote to open debate on an unrelated bill Monday evening -- which will kick off a process where an as-yet-unknown number of amendments will be able to compete for a procedural threshold of 60 votes to then pass the Senate.
It was that promise that put in motion the deal that eventually severed DACA from other negotiations but also offers a rare opportunity for lawmakers to compete on a neutral playing field for bipartisan support.
A group of roughly 20 bipartisan senators is drafting legislation over the weekend to offer perhaps multiple amendments and potentially keep the debate focused on a narrow DACA-border security bill. Advocates on the left may offer a clean DACA fix like the Dream Act, and some on the right are drafting a version of the White House proposal that would include $25 billion for a border wall and heavy cuts to legal immigration with a pathway to citizenship -- though neither is expected to have 60 votes.
If the legislative process can't produce success, advocates say, they will look for any other leverage points they can.
"If that doesn't work out, then there's still an omnibus at the end of the day," said Menendez, referring to the spending bills due in March to fund the government under the topline two-year budget deal passed Friday.
But Gutierrez doubted that approach -- scoffing at the idea that Democrats would be taken seriously if they threatened to withhold their votes yet again without success.
"Really?" Gutierrez said about the omnibus as leverage. "Is it plausible? Is it realistic? Can you continue to threaten with something?"
Other options could include a temporary, one-year or two-year extension of DACA without a permanent solution, though lawmakers have decried that option.
Still, many aren't ready to give up hope.
"This President clearly wants to get it done, I think the majority of Republicans want to get it done and the majority of Democrats want to get it done. Can we reach that balance? We can get there, I feel very confident we can get there," said Florida's Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.