Lawmakers headed for the exits without passing legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought to the U.S. without legal permission as children who are facing detention and deportation.
Despite mounting pressure from immigration activists and progressive groups in recent weeks, and a last-minute effort by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to urge their Senate colleagues to vote against a short-term spending bill, Congress voted to keep the government funded until Jan. 19.
Progressive groups focused their attention on allies in particular rather than dedicating more time on Republicans who either don’t support fixing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or are working in sync with the White House to get strong border security measures in exchange for providing so-called Dreamers permanent relief. Instead, progressives and immigration activists turned up the heat on Democrats, hopeful that it would generate action, and that lawmakers would take a stand before the end of the year rather than allow Republicans to punt the issue into 2018.
A number of Democrats, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, felt the heat. But it wasn’t enough to block the spending bill; 17 Senate Democrats voted with Republicans. Within hours of the final vote, progressive groups put them, and the 13 House Democrats who supported the resolution, on notice.
Angel Padilla, policy director for progressive group Indivisible, said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., should have publicly urged his caucus to vote against the continuing resolution to fund the government the way House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., did.
“She has kept her word; he has not,” Padilla said.
Immigration activists and progressive groups realized they needed to change their tactics and focus on the lawmakers they consider allies because they believed that would produce the most action, Padilla said. “We went after Democrats.”
“There’s a long history of being disappointed on this issue with Democrats,” Padilla said, admitting that there is some concern Democrats won’t lay it all on the line in January.
But he said Indivisible and the groups they are coordinating with aren’t shying away any longer from demanding public commitments from lawmakers, tired of private promises that then fall through. “Anyone voting for this CR is voting for 4,000 Dreamers, DACA recipients, to lose their protections,” Padilla said.
Every day that a fix is not passed to help the 800,000 DACA recipients, 122 of them lose their work permits, meaning roughly 4,000 will lose protection and will be at risk of deportation between now and Jan. 19.
In the hours following the House and Senate votes to avert a shutdown, activists used the hashtag #DeportationCaucus on Twitter to hammer Democrats who voted for the measure. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who touted his Spanish-speaking credentials as a vice presidential candidate in 2016, got hit by progressives for backing the short-term measure, chiding him for “flaunting” his relationship with Latinos.
To Dems & GOP party who voted to deport #Dreamers, know this: your days in Congress are numbered. #DreamActNow is inevitable & they will vote you out #TimeFlies— Marielena Hincapié (@MarielenaNILC) December 22, 2017
“Democrats and Republicans are going to continue to feel the heat come January as more people come to D.C.," said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns for ACLU.
“I’m not praising Republicans or Democrats at a time when I have to look my sister in the eye and say, ‘Well, we’ve got to wait,’” said Praeli, whose sister is a DACA recipient. “We’ve grown up in this country, and this is about our lives.”
Praeli is optimistic Congress will pass a permanent fix in January despite the long road ahead.
“I’m clear on the power of this movement, on the power of the Dreamers who came to DC,” she said. “That does not mean there aren’t people who have failed us today, and we have taken notice.”
Republicans will need Democratic help in January to pass the omnibus spending bill, and that’s where Democrats can use their leverage. If Republicans want to raise defense spending caps and President Trump wants money for more technology at the border, then Democrats will demand a fix for Dreamers in exchange. But it won’t be easy. Republicans have said they want money for the southern border wall and to limit family-based immigration; both are no-goes for Democrats.
Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, isn’t convinced lawmakers will help DACA recipients. He expressed frustration with Democratic leadership, arguing they should have pulled out all the stops before the end of the year.
Vela is preparing a letter with Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Texas, to Democratic leaders in the Senate, pressing them to reject any deal that would allow construction of a southern border wall. The letter, which will be released in the coming days, raises concerns over the environmental impact a wall would have on National Wildlife Refuges along the southern border.
Vela, Thompson, and other signees are sending the letter to Schumer and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Vela isn’t alone in his skepticism that a deal will be struck.
“I’m not overly optimistic,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., But he said there’s been “significant progress” in both chambers on a potential deal. Yarmuth said a shutdown is a real possibility in January.
“We can’t keep doing this forever,” Yarmuth said. “On Jan, 19, this whole March bullshit – excuse me – about DACA just won’t fly. I don’t think [Republicans] can afford to alienate the entire Hispanic world in an election year.”