Progressives in Congress are taking a hard line on immigration, betting that the Democratic base will stick with them even if their tactics prevent lawmakers from agreeing to a temporary extension of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) officially opposed passage of a $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by the House Thursday, arguing it "would fund Trump’s border wall and mass deportation force" and lacked protections for so-called Dreamers, a term used to describe illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
But the omnibus bill, which passed with majority support in both parties, was the last must-pass piece of legislation for Congress before the midterm elections. That means Democrats are unlikely to have any leverage going forward to force action on DACA, a program that had allowed Dreamers to live, work and go to school in the United States.
Progressive Democrats, who were once hell-bent on using the omnibus to force a legislative replacement for DACA, made clear their position, but didn't take a do-or-die attitude as they had in previously legislative fights.
In doing so, they are betting that the base will support avoiding a bad deal even if it means Dreamers or their families could face the threat of deportation in the coming months.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a veteran immigrant activist, said the Dreamers are broadly onboard with the Democratic strategy.
"There's no question. I remember pushing for the Dream Act 10 years ago — the Dreamers have come a very long way, and they really understand all the pieces of who has power, and who brings what to the floor, and how does something come to the floor, and what is the Democratic leverage as a minority party," she said.
Jayapal said Dreamers also understand that proposals restricted to the protection of current DACA recipients or potential recipients — a universe of anywhere between 700,000 and 1.8 million people — would come at the expense of their family members.
"They also understand that they're being played off of their parents. They're not going to let that happen," she said.
Greisa Martínez Rosas, a DACA recipient and advocacy and policy director at United We Dream (UWD), an influential immigrant youth network, says Dreamers haven’t wavered on insisting that their families be protected.
"It wasn’t a difficult decision. It was a heart-wrenching one because we knew what the political implications would be and what the life implications would be. But it’s about our families," she said.
Still, Martínez Rosas said Dreamers also understand that not all Democrats are necessarily on their side, and not all Republicans are necessarily against them.
"We’re doing what we know works, which is organizing the community and making sure they understand the political nuance that, just because you say you like Dreamers, doesn’t mean you’re fighting deportation, and just because you have an R at the end of your name, doesn’t mean you are part of Trump’s deportation machine," she said.
Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), who's been an outspoken advocate for a legislative DACA replacement, said a great part of the reason both Republicans and Democrats in Congress let the issue pass by was a court decision that extended DACA.
President Trump canceled DACA in September, giving Congress until March 5 to enact a replacement before its recipients started losing benefits. Before the deadline, a judge in California declared Trump's order illegal and extended the program until the case is resolved.
"Now that this is in the courts, it's taken the urgency away, unfortunately," said Newhouse. "We find ourselves in a place where we need to get this done, the American people support us getting this done, but the urgency has been lifted and so there wasn't a need seen to put it in this bill, to address the issue."
Hector Barreto, chairman of the Latino Coalition, a conservative Hispanic group that's close to Trump, said Democrats are less keen to hurry the issue along, as it benefits them electorally.
"It's a winning issue for them, it's baked into the cake," said Barreto, who added that he thinks Trump is the right politician to break a 30-year impasse on immigration reform.
"To me, it's a Nixon-goes-to-China situation," he said.
But both Barreto and Jayapal pointed out that immigration hardliners on the right stand to win support from Trump’s base by holding firm on immigration.
"I don't think the Republicans can play Dreamers off of us," Jayapal said. "They might be able to play some of their base, people that are already with them, but that's fine."
Still, Barreto said that Dreamer support forces Democrats to have a real long-term plan, as opposed to perpetually appealing to voters on an unresolved issue.
"Democrats have to be careful not to be too clever on this issue," Barreto said. "The old playbook will for better than it will for Republicans, but it won't work forever."
Martínez Rosas said the issue has gone past the political for Dreamers, and become a daily fixture in their lives as they and their families face immigration enforcement action.
"This is not politics as usual, and one of the clearest ways we’re seeing it right now is the structural powers like ICE and CBP and DHS have become political pawns in a way they’ve never been emboldened before," she said.
Rep. Juan Vargas, a California Democrat who voted against the omnibus because it lacked protection for Dreamers, said his party has to keep proving itself to Dreamers after disappointing in the budget process.
"It's horrible. The situation here is that everyone had promised these kids that they would do something. The Republicans promised, the president promised, the Democrats promised, the Senate promised, the Congress promised, and they got nothing."
Source: The Hill