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 nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September.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 GutierrezDHS to make migrants wait in Mexico while asylum claims processed Coffman loses GOP seat in Colorado Trump changes mean only wealthy immigrants may apply, says critic 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 SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration MORE (N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Trump, Dems open drug price talks | FDA warns against infusing young people's blood | Facebook under scrutiny over health data | Harris says Medicare for all isn't socialism Dems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Steve King asks for Congressional Record correction over white supremacist quote 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 RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump Unscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden 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 DurbinSanders: 'Not crazy' about nixing the Senate filibuster Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Trump praises law enforcement response to shooting at Illinois business 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 TillisDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration GOP senator dedicates heart photo to wife from Senate floor for Valentine's Day MORE (R-N.C.) was part of a group of GOP senators –– led by Judiciary Chairman Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive | Dems question IRS on new tax forms | Warren rolls out universal child care proposal | Illinois governor signs bill for minimum wage Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive High stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks 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.