“Dreamers” protest inside of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington on Nov. 9. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

AS CONGRESS dithers, the fates of some 700,000 "dreamers," undocumented young immigrants brought to the United States as children, hang in the balance. Legions of chief executives, university presidents, advocacy groups and others have pleaded for lawmakers to lift the veil of uncertainty under which these immigrants, American in all but the legal sense, have lived since September, when the Trump administration announced it planned to end the protection from deportation they have enjoyed since 2012. Despite those pleas, Congress, facing a March deadline, has provided no legal means for dreamers to remain in the country where they've grown up, gone to school, worked and, in most cases, paid taxes.

Instead, the dreamers have become a bargaining chip, held in reserve by politicians seeking political advantage in Washington's unending partisan battles. Large majorities of Americans favor allowing dreamers to stay in this country legally, as do top executives across the technology, retail, financial and other sectors. Still, an eminently solvable problem remains unsolved.

The haggling over dreamers is Washington at its dysfunctional worst. President Trump pledged publicly to back a straightforward deal with the Democrats under which the immigrants are granted legal status, in return for some simple concessions on border security. Then, under pressure from hard-liners in the Republican base, he pivoted to a set of maximalist demands, including funding to build a border wall and reductions in legal immigration. Some Republican lawmakers sponsored a bill to put dreamers on a path to citizenship but attached conditions — for instance, barring them for at least 15 years from sponsoring relatives for green cards — more onerous than those faced by previous immigrant groups.

Democrats, having failed for more than 15 years to enact legislation to allow dreamers to stay in the country, now threaten to block a must-pass spending bill, potentially shutting down the government, unless the measure is amended to resolve the impasse. Republicans say that's unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on dreamers, most of them in their teens, 20s and early 30s. Owing to the administration's decision to terminate Obama-era protections for them, about 30,000 will lose their protected status each month starting in March unless Congress acts. That means that in addition to becoming eligible for deportation, they will also lose permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the Trump administration axed, that enable many of them to enroll in college with in-state tuition subsidies, work legally and obtain valid state driver's licenses.

Last month, tech giants such as Intel, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others joined a lobbying coalition organized to urge Congress to act to protect dreamers. Not to worry, said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.): A fix is in the works. But in the next breath, Mr. Ryan said any fix would require "a lot of other things" in the way of border enforcement. That suggests Republicans are more interested in exacting concessions than in protecting hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have built lives in this country. Not exactly a recipe for hope.