Dems under pressure to deliver for Dreamers

Dems under pressure to deliver for Dreamers
© Greg Nash

Democrats are facing a year-end crunch over the fate of the Dreamers. 

For months, party leaders have insisted they'll use every bit of available leverage to secure legal protections for hundreds of thousands of those young, undocumented immigrants after President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September.

Heading into next week's vote to fund the government and prevent a shutdown, immigration reformers in and out of Congress are pushing those leaders to follow through.

“Not having a DACA fix would just have a devastating effect on the immigrant community,” Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezTrump ignores practical solution for stopping illegal immigration Illinois officer resigns after not helping woman harassed for wearing Puerto Rico shirt Dem tears into Kelly over immigrant comments: 'He eats the vegetables that they pick' MORE (D-Ill.) said Wednesday. “You want to make it catastrophic, have it because the Democrats walked away. 

“That would make it catastrophic.” 

In next week’s vote on a temporary spending bill, Senate Democrats are assured some leverage, thanks to their filibuster power. House Democrats may have similar sway if Republicans can't find the votes to pass the continuing resolution (CR) on their own.

But the Democrats, who are fighting for a number of other priorities as part of the budget package, are also wary of being blamed for shuttering the government just days before Christmas. And there are lingering concerns that an immigration fight on the CR could derail bipartisan DACA talks that seem to be progressing in the upper chamber. 

That combination of factors poses a potentially significant timing dilemma for Democratic leaders, who were hammered by immigration activists and Hispanic lawmakers in September — when they agreed to a spending deal with Trump that excluded a DACA fix — andwould face increasing blowback if they leave Washington next week having punted the issue again.

"For us, it cannot go into next year. It’s just not possible. For us, any vote on an end-of-year spending bill [without a DACA fix] is a vote to deport youth," said Adrian Reyna, director of membership for United We Dream, an immigrant-led advocacy group.

"Democrats in both the House and the Senate have made the promise to us and have made a public commitment to use the leverage in the budget negotiation to get the Dream Act.”

The Democratic leaders in both chambers, Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada Lawmakers consider easing costs on drug companies as part of opioids deal New grounds for impeachment? House Dem says Trump deserves it for making society worse MORE (Calif.), have both vowed to fight tooth-and-nail to secure the DACA protections this month. 

“We will not leave here without a DACA fix,” Pelosi said last week.

But House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign Blue wave poses governing risks for Dems Dems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests MORE (R-Wis.) has emphasized that Trump gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a DACA fix, suggesting he’s in no hurry to move on the issue before then. And he’s repeatedly rejected the notion of moving immigration language as part of a year-end spending bill.

“That's a separate issue,” Ryan reiterated Tuesday

Democratic leaders in both chambers insist that they’re not giving up.

Sen. Richard DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGrassley to administration: You must consult Congress on refugee cap Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (D-Ill.) suggested Wednesday that the bipartisan negotiations seeking a DACA deal have progressed further than the press has reported.

He wants a fix enacted this year, and most Senate Democrats, Durbin said, agree with him.

"They all feel as I do,” he said. “They want it done this year. And that's our goal so we'll keep working at it."

But some of the Republicans involved in those negotiations are much less optimistic that a deal can be enacted this year.

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTrump assures storm victims in Carolinas: 'We will be there 100 percent' North Carolina governor: We saw ‘significant damage’ in eastern part of state GOP senator on allegation against Kavanaugh: 'Why on Earth' wasn't it discussed earlier? MORE (R-N.C.) was part of a group of GOP senators –– led by Judiciary Chairman Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyFord lawyer proposes testifying next Thursday Yale Law School dean responds to reports that Kavanaugh hired women with 'certain look' Kavanaugh tells Senate panel: I want a hearing to 'clear my name' MORE (R-Iowa) — who huddledTuesday night in search of a DACA agreement. 

Tillis said the discussions will continue, but doubted the appetite of GOP leaders to move on the issue immediately.

"I think it's unrealistic for a couple of reasons,” he said. “Mechanically, it may be difficult to do, [and] we now hear that there is a very strong sentiment against putting this in the year-end bill on the House side .... and I think similarly on the Senate side." 

House GOP leaders met Wednesday evening in the Capitol to discuss their plans for a CR to keep the government running beyond Dec. 22, when funding is set to expire. 

Aside from the DACA issue, lawmakers are scrambling to shore up funding for hurricane and wildfire relief, a popular children’s health insurance program and ObamaCare subsidies that Senate GOP leaders had leveraged to secure support for their tax reform package, which is scheduled for a separate vote early next week.

Some Democrats have argued that delaying DACA until January would be worth the price if the Democrats were able to lock down some of their other priorities this month, since they would have similar — if not more — leverage ahead of next month’s omnibus debate. 

But the immigration reformers say too much is at stake, both politically and practically, to delay any further. One group has been distributing buttons to lawmakers this week bearing the number 122, a reference to the estimated number of Dreamers who lose their legal protections each day that Congress fails to act.

"At a rate of 122 DACA recipients losing protections a day … kicking the can down the road any further does not maintain the status quo," said Tom Jawetz, a vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, which is distributing the buttons.

"I would not consider kicking the can down the road an acceptable result," he added.

Gutierrez also offered a political warning to fellow Democrats who want to delay action.

“For those who say we can wait, tell that to the thousands of Dreamers who will lose their work permit, who won’t be able to enter into a classroom, who won’t be able to enter into a hospital, who have to shutter their businesses,” Gutierrez said. 

“Latinos are so used to hearing, ‘mañana,’ that that’s all they’re going to hear,” he added. 

“They’re going to hear, ‘mañana.’ 

Jordain Carney contributed.