Dems left Dreamers out to dry, say activists
Immigration activists are furious that 73 House Democrats, including seven members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, voted for a bipartisan spending bill that doesn’t include a DACA fix.
The early-morning House vote ended a brief government shutdown precipitated by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and in the process passed a two-year spending proposal that included a bevy of Democratic priorities, but not immigration.
“Last night immigrant young people and people of conscience fighting for justice were betrayed by both parties,” said Greisa Martínez Rosas, a DACA recipient and advocacy director for United We Dream, an immigrant youth activism network.
Senate Democrats took some cover on the immigration front in the form of a promise from Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is expected to bring to the floor a shell bill Monday for the Senate to generate an immigration bill through the amendment process.
Minority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) reaped scant praise from immigration advocates for extracting that promise, as he, along with McConnell, was the principal architect of the two-year deal.
But the 73 House Democrats — and Democratic leadership — took the brunt of activists’ rage, both for voting to re-open government and for not getting Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to make a promise akin to McConnell’s.
“We are angry, we are appalled and we are disgusted by Democrats and Republicans alike who so willingly threw immigrant youth under the bus,” said Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change.
“Let’s call some of them out: They include the 73 House Democrats who betrayed immigrant youth, they include Paul Ryan and they include Chuck Schumer,” she added.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), who opposed the budget bill, said the assurances from GOP leaders that the House will act on DACA fell flat with Democrats for the simple reason that Ryan has refused to promise action in the conclusive language McConnell has used.
“He’s not committing to a vote,” Krishnamoorthi said. “It didn’t feel concrete.”
Still, if the Senate passes an immigration bill, it will need Democratic support. That means any Senate bill is unlikely to meet a promise Ryan made to the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus to only consider immigration proposals that have the support of at least half the Republican Conference. More recently Ryan has altered the language of that stipulation, saying an immigration bill must have President Trump’s support to earn a floor vote.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who supported the budget package, said he trusts Ryan to make good on his word to move on immigration, arguing there will be plenty of pressure on the Speaker to act. McConnell’s decision to tackle DACA this month, in particular, will likely be enough to force Ryan’s hand, he said.
“It does put pressure here, you can’t just ignore it,” Connolly said.
“You may choose not to respond to it, which we’ve done before on immigration, but this is a little different. There’s a lot more political pressure, and public opinion is overwhelming on this subject.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a progressive pro-immigration group with strong ties to Democrats, said the “best chance” for a DACA bill was tied to a must-pass spending measure, but “that train has left the station.”
“The Republican resistance to that notion has been absolute. The Democrats tried a variety of ways to get Republicans to bite, they never did, and in the end Democrats backed off,” he said.
But Sharry added that the key player in the House would not be Ryan, but Trump, whose September move to cancel DACA precipitated the urgency to legislate on immigration.
“In the Senate there’s a chance for 60 votes to be expressed through that coalition next week, but in the House if Ryan says ‘I’m only going to bring up what’s supported by a majority of Republicans,’ then nothing’s going to pass,” said Sharry
“Will he cave or not? I think he will if Trump insists on it. I think he won’t if Trump doesn’t.”
And the Democrats’ role in putting Trump at the center of the immigration debate is part of what’s angering activists.
In private conversations, both House Democrats and outside activists have expressed shock that Republicans who value fiscal discipline were more willing to negotiate adding a trillion dollars to the deficit than protection for 800,000 Dreamers.
Some activists view that as evidence of a racially-charged agenda.
“The Trump administration has a clear agenda, they want to wipe immigrant young people from this country by either deporting us or locking us away for profit,” said Martinez Rosas.
“Anyone who does not stand in the way of that is an enabler of a white supremacist agenda,” she added.
But there’s a split among pro-immigrant groups in what a backlash against Democrats would look like.
It’s fueled by an urgency to ensure that DACA recipients don’t start losing their benefits en-masse come the Trump-set March 5 deadline, and by a complicated web of political priorities.
“I’m not kidding, I’m not focusing on the electoral implications of this,” said Sharry. “There’s no question that there’s a lot of progressives who are upset that some Democrats caved. I suspect people will be exploring options.”
“Right now what my organization is focused on is what do we do about the crisis,” he added.
Martínez Rosas, an outspoken advocate whose tactics have angered some politicians, acknowledged that for some House Democrats, the choice to vote for a shutdown was no choice at all.
“There were some Democrats that made very difficult decisions when it came to the vote last night,” she said.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who spearheaded the push to use the threat of a shutdown to force the issue, argued that the Democrats had three leverage points leading into Friday’s vote: the demand for parity in raising budget caps; the need to hike the debt ceiling; and the bipartisan wish to provide emergency relief to storm victims across the country. He lamented that the Democrats had ceded all three in the budget deal, all but dismissing the notion that the minority party would somehow have more leverage approaching the omnibus deadline of March 23.
“Is it plausible? Is it realistic? Can you continue to threaten with something [and not follow through]?” he asked moments before Friday’s early morning vote. “We’re gonna figure out a new way forward.”