Left fears Democrats will give too much on immigration

Left fears Democrats will give  too much on immigration
© Greg Nash

Senate Democratic negotiators are getting pushback from pro-immigrant activists and other base constituencies who worry they are poised to give too much away in a deal protecting “Dreamers.”

Democrats have signaled they are willing to consider proposals to rein in family-based migration and the diversity visa lottery to reach an agreement with President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE and the GOP.

But with Trump and other Republicans already indicating their desire to help those immigrants enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, some immigration activists fear the Democrats are ceding too much ground.

“The idea of the diversity lottery and family-based immigration being changed, that’s just not a serious offer. You’re asking for the moon and giving the smallest thing in return,” said Brent Wilkes, the CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

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“They haven’t made the case why a U.S. citizen shouldn’t be able to bring in relatives. They paint the worst-case example of someone who has brought in 20 relatives but the reality is a much slower process and much fewer people,” he said.

“What is the gain for the United States to stop our own citizens from sponsoring relatives to come into the country?”

Adrian Reyna, DREAM Act campaign director of United We Dream, said legislation to protect Dreamers — young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children — shouldn’t hurt other immigrant groups, such as people with relatives in the U.S. or those living in countries helped by the visa lottery.

“All of our membership have spoken. We do not want to be negotiating with the lives of people. We believe in order to protect individuals we don’t have to harm others,” he said.  

He said his group would not support a DACA fix “that jeopardizes the security of our parents.”

“I cannot go into the house and say ‘we were able to protect me and my two sisters, but now you’ll have to live with more fear because there are more deportation agents out there,’ ” he added.

Democrats say they are moving ahead with the immigration talks after a meeting with Trump Tuesday at the White House, but offered mixed signals Wednesday on whether they plan to stick with the four elements of an agreement that were discussed.

House Minority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Hoyer suggests Dems won't support spending bill without DACA fix MORE (D-Md.), who attended the meeting with Trump, said Democrats haven’t agreed to the White House’s parameters.

But Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Ex-Sheriff David Clarke: Trump only one who 'cares about black American citizens' DHS chief takes heat over Trump furor MORE (Ill.), who has a leading role in the talks, says negotiators are sticking with the four corners that were discussed.

“I don’t know that anyone’s backed away from that, to my knowledge. That’s the starting point,” he said.

Democrats are under heavy pressure from immigrant rights activists, who are demanding they take a stand for the estimated 800,000 Dreamers who could be at risk of deportation in the coming years unless Congress acts. 

In return for action to help Dreamers, Trump is pushing several changes to the immigration system, including giving less weight to family relationships in granting green cards and possibly changing the diversity visa lottery program.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said any deal to protect Dreamers should not become a vehicle for enacting those kinds of proposals.

“We want the DREAM Act to pass. It’s clear that Republicans are trying to use Dreamers as bargaining chips to get as much of their agenda added to it, and it’s unfortunate,” he said, referring to a bipartisan bill that would create a path to citizenship for certain immigrants brought to the country as children.

Sharry said if Republicans insist on expanding the scope of the deal beyond the DREAM Act, activists would expect Democrats to win additional concessions.

“If there is an expansion of the Republican agenda, there will have to be an expansion of the Democratic agenda. We’ll be evaluating whether that balance is equitable and whether there’s parity,” he said. 

Durbin on Wednesday said he is aware of the concerns of pro-immigrant advocates.

“They’re concerned. They want to know the details. I understand it. Family reunification is an important value to our country and to our caucus. When it comes to diversity [visa lottery], it was created for a reason. So we’re going to try to find a way to reach a compromise, find a middle ground and demonstrate to them that they’re not sacrificing their values,” he said.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who is among Capitol Hill’s most ardent immigrant rights advocates, has emerged in the DACA fight as among the loudest critics of the GOP’s enforcement wish list — and any Democrats willing to accept it.

Gutiérrez is quick to point out that top Democratic leaders, after meeting with Trump in September, asserted they had a deal combining the DREAM Act with some new border enforcement measures — but no interior enforcement and no border wall. He’s wondering how that agreement morphed into something where Republicans get not only border enforcement, but also a reduction in both family migration and diversity visas.

“You cannot allow them to change the goal posts, which they are doing,” he said. “I am concerned that Democrats will follow suit.”

By giving away the store on a DACA package, Gutiérrez continued, Democratic leaders would have no cards to play if Congress ever returns to the issue in the form of a more comprehensive immigration reform package.

“If you give it up now, when you go back to negotiate comprehensive [reform] they’re going to say, ‘That’s off the table. You gave it up for the Dreamers,’ ” Gutiérrez said. “You cannot give up something today and expect it tomorrow.”

Rep. Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralLeft fears Democrats will give too much on immigration Trump’s border wall becomes flashpoint in shutdown fight Dem: Putin trying to 'outflank' US across the globe while Trump tweets MORE (D-N.Y.) also suggested he’d oppose a DACA package that included the new restrictions on family migration and diversity visas.

“Let’s not get the DREAM Act saddled with toxic stuff,” he said.

If Republicans, Democrats and the president all support protections for Dreamers, Espaillat wondered, why are Republicans pushing enforcement provisions that could sink the negotiations — and why are Democrats considering them?

“I think it’s a mistake,” he said. “This particular issue has broad support in and of itself. Why create obstacles in front of it?”

Trump met with two dozen lawmakers at the White House Tuesday to set the parameters of the immigration negotiation.

The White House said afterward that the president and lawmakers agreed to address family-based migration, along with border security and reform of the visa lottery program, as part of a deal to protect Dreamers.

The president said work on a more comprehensive immigration deal could begin once the fates of Dreamers are settled.

The debate is heating up as congressional leaders scramble for a deal to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. 

Congress has recently passed three short-term spending bills to keep the government open, and lawmakers will likely need another continuing resolution before Jan. 19 to prevent a shutdown.

Democrats are feeling heavy pressure — internal and external — to insist on a DACA resolution as part of the next spending vehicle. Republican leaders, however, have rejected the idea of putting DACA language on a spending bill, urging a stand-alone package. 

Hoyer on Wednesday declined to reveal his hand.

“The key is not what bill it’s in, the key is that it gets done,” he said. “We would hope that it would get done prior to the passage of any of the fiscal bills, so that we would have the assurance that it was done.”