Dems should walk from any deal without clean DREAM Act
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As an agreement to fix President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE’s order to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program remains elusive, congressional Democrats will soon face a choice. The path these legislators end up taking could not only make the difference between the federal government remaining open or not. The choice could also decide the fate of approximately 800,000 individuals who are Americans in every sense, except on paper.

In December, Democrats had a similar dilemma and chose to vote for another short-term continuing resolution that kicked the DACA issue down the proverbial road, and that is where we are now. Democratic leaders may lose the leverage they now have in the foreseeable future and should therefore seize the opportunity to demand a clean DREAM Act as part of any budget deal.


The conventional wisdom among many liberal lawmakers is that despite a unified GOP government controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, the Republicans could easily turn the tables and blame Democrats for a potential government shutdown. This has spooked Democratic leaders in Congress and thus provoked discussion on whether the fate of the Dreamers is “worth” drawing a line in the sand and risking blame for a shutdown.

Democrats should not assume that business groups, immigrant rights activists, Latinos and others will give them yet another pass if they decide to cave once more. There is no reason why Democrats should accept anything less than an up-or-down vote on a clean DREAM Act without extraneous “border security” provisions and other measures that would infringe upon the rights of other types of immigrants, as the White House has demanded, albeit in a confusing and often times insulting fashion. 

Passing a clean DREAM Act should be a no-brainer for policymakers. According to the most recent data, more than 90 percent of DACA recipients are employed and earn more money thanks to the work authorization provided under the program. This is significantly higher than the overall U.S. labor force participation, which currently stands at 62.7 percent. Higher wages, in turn, result in increased tax revenues at the federal, state, and local levels. Moreover, 97 percent of DACA recipients are either in school or have a job. These numbers clearly demonstrate how Dreamers are a net positive to the economy and society at large, at virtually zero cost to the taxpayer.

History also cautions that some fights are worth taking a risk for and the political party that takes said risks can be rewarded by voters. Though the 2013 government shutdown was more about politics than policy, congressional Republicans did not wind up paying a political price for provoking that outcome. Even though public opinion quickly turned on GOP attempts to end ObamaCare through the budget process, the 2014 mid-term elections ended up better than expected for Republicans, in which they regained control of the Senate and retained their House majority.

Even if Democrats end up being blamed for a short-term government shutdown, recent precedent shows that this would not necessarily mean automatic defeat in November. However, the calculation should not be political. At stake are the lives of 800,000 people who are the embodiment of the American Dream and everything this great country stands for. By ending DACA and using Dreamers as bargaining chips for his “uninformed” border wall, President Trump is attempting to force Democrats into a deal they would soon regret.

Complicating matters further is the fact that the White House has sent too many mixed signals – or no signals at all as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Poll finds Dems prioritize health care, GOP picks lower taxes when it's time to vote The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan MORE (R-Ky.) recently stated – on the issue and few, if anybody, knows what the president would sign or not. In the face of such uncertainty, Democrats should side with history and not political calculations. House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi meets with Parkland students and parents, says gun control would be atop Dems’ agenda The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (D-N.Y.) should let it be known that unless congressional leaders agree to an up-or-down vote on the DREAM Act, which has the votes to pass both chambers, Democrats will not bail out the GOP with their votes. If Republicans in Congress are willing to shutdown the government instead of doing right by Dreamers, that is a fight Democrats should look forward to. Who knows? It might actually work in their favor politically to do the right thing as well.

The author is the Executive Director of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCLS), which represents the interests of over 400 Latino state legislators in the 50 states, U.S. territories, and Puerto Rico.