Activism

Will Dems Do the Right Thing and Make the Dream Act a Red Line?

The party's entire base is behind it.

Photo Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald / Shutterstock.com

After what seems like three million news cycles and hot takes on "sh*thole countries," Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of legal protections, commonly known as DACA, for nearly 800,000 Americans who came to the United States as children. Many of these people, known as the Dreamers, have gone to college, bought homes and worked in the U.S. for decades, but do not have American citizenship. They are at risk of deportation as early as March 5, if Congress allows their immigration protections to expire.

On January 19, Democrats in Congress have a rare opportunity to do more than trot out DACA recipients at press conferences by showing their commitment to these Americans by voting against a continuing resolution, and yes, shutting down the government, if it does not include a clean Dream Act.

They've already missed two opportunities.

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First, in September, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) met with Donald Trump to hammer out a deal that included protection from deportation for young immigrants in exchange for enhanced border security. In a joint statement in September, Schumer and Pelosi said, "We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides."

The next day, Schumer was caught on a hot mic, saying of a dinner meeting with President Trump, "He likes me." Trump even chimed in saying that, "More and more we’re trying to work things out together," the Associated Press reported. 

Shockingly for Schumer and Pelosi, though perhaps not for legions of stiffed construction workers and contractors, or anyone who's followed Trump's career for the last 40 years, he reneged on the deal. Immigration activists, with allies from across the spectrum of the anti-Trump left, began pressuring the Democrats to vote against the next continuing resolution in December if it too did not include a Dream Act.

A coalition of groups including Indivisible, United We Dream and the National Immigration Law Center said in a joint statement, "At a time of great urgency, the message Schumer and Pelosi sent to immigrant youth was, ‘wait.’ Yet every day that teenagers are not able to apply for DACA is a day that they fall into a deadly gap where they live at risk of deportation."

Pelosi consoled the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are at risk of losing their DACA protections by telling them, "We will not leave here without a DACA fix." Yet they did. Activists were once again livid. "We are ready to label them as what they are: enablers of the deportation campaign that the White House wants to drive,” Adrian Reyna, director of membership and technology for advocacy group United We Dream told the Huffington Post. "We’re ready to label them as the deportation caucus.” 

With Congress back in session after the new year, Angel Padilla, policy director of Indivisible, told AlterNet, "For us, it's simple....when there are 800,000 DACA recipients who are at risk, you cannot as a U.S. senator vote for a spending bill that funds deportation activities if it does not do something for Dreamers, because then what you're doing is you're essentially voting to deport Dreamers."

"All these things have a huge impact on our country, on our communities, on our economy," Bruna Bouhid, a spokeswoman for United We Dream, told AlterNet. "We're more powerful when we all stand together, and I think that's what you'll see from United We Dream, from other organizations, and from the progressive movement, who has stood by us through very challenging times."

It's a message that a wide range of unlikely allies can get behind. During the first attempt to rescind DACA, CEOs of 400 companies, including Facebook, Google, Best Buy, and Wells Fargo, wrote a letter to Trump urging him to protect the Dreamers.

Wells Fargo, which funds private immigration prisons, apparently has more respect for some immigrants than Republican members of Congress do. A broad spectrum of the anti-Trump left, from the former Bernie Sanders staffers at Our Revolution to Indivisible to the center-left Center for American Progress, supports a shutdown if the Dream Act doesn't pass.

The Dream Act also has broad support in swing states. A new poll from MoveOn.org Civic Action, Center for American Progress Action Fund, and SEIU shows support among voters in 12 battleground states (Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin). Among the findings:

"81% of battleground voters say a budget agreement should prevent the deportation of Dreamers by granting them legal status to remain in the country. … Support for protections is nearly as strong in red states, which voted for both Romney and Trump (79%), as in purple states that went for Obama and Trump (82%).”

Plus, the poll shows, by an 11 percent margin, "If there is a government shutdown because of an impasse over the government funding bill, most voters’ instincts will be to blame President Trump and the Republican majority in Congress."

"It’s rare that the politically smart thing and the right thing align so perfectly; they need to seize this opportunity," said Shannon Stagman, of Empire State Indivisible.

They should do so despite GOP attempts to hold other programs hostage. In a last-ditch attempt to force yes votes from Democrats, Republicans are including a six-year reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides health insurance coverage for nine million poor kids, and ran out of funding in September. It's critical that the program be reauthorized, and there's no reason a continuing resolution can't include funding for both CHIP and a Dream Act.

As Paul McLeod writes in Buzzfeed, "Democrats will have to choose between sticking to their guns and potentially forcing a government shutdown over DACA, or taking the CHIP funding for now and hoping for an immigration bill to pass before the March deadline."

So far, Schumer appears to be holding firmer than in December. "The revulsion toward that bill was broad and strong,” he told reporters after a meeting with his caucus, reported HuffPost.  

“The overwhelming number in our caucus have said they don’t like this deal and they believe if we kick the can down the road this time we’ll be back where we started from next time,” Schumer continued. “There’s very, very strong support not to go along with their deal.”

To encourage Democrats to stick to their guns and encourage activists to pressure them to do so, the former Obama staffers at Crooked Media created a site to track which Democrats are willing to fight—a chart labels them "fight club"—and which Democrats aren't (labeled "waffle house"). There's an updated whip count, call scripts with phone numbers and background information on how to lobby members of Congress. 

They have less than two days. 800,000 Americans depend on it. 

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Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.