Pro-immigrant activists reacted to news of a bipartisan pact to reopen the federal government with disappointment, resignation, and in some cases, outright anger at Democrats for agreeing to the deal.
“[Democrats] turned their back on us,” said Eliso Magos, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiary, and an organizer for CASA, a Maryland-based organization that focuses on Latinos and immigrants. “It’s stressful as a DACA recipient not to know what’s going to happen next.” Magos’s work permit is set to expire in December 2019; he’s waiting for his permit to be renewed.
On Monday, the Senate voted for a stopgap spending bill—three days after the government first shut down. “The Republican leader and I have come to an arrangement: We will vote to reopen the government,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Democrats and a handful of Republicans had originally voted against funding the government unless the status of 700,000 young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally, and who were protected by the DACA program rescinded by the Trump administration in September, was dealt with.
Three days into the shutdown, however, Democrats changed their tune after an assurance from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the chamber would consider a bill dealing with undocumented immigrants spared by the now-defunct Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by the next funding deadline, February 8. “While this procedure will not satisfy all on both sides, it’s a way forward,” Schumer said. “I’m confident that we can get the 60 votes in the Senate for a DACA bill. And now there is a real pathway to get a bill on the floor and through the Senate. It is a good solution, and I will vote for it.”
It was yet another defeat for activists who just last month were urging lawmakers to pass legislation to protect so-called “Dreamers” to no avail. Just hours before, immigration activists urged Senate Democrats to “stand strong” in a press call. By Monday afternoon, activists found themselves in a familiar place: with no immigration legislation and no assurance for those at risk of deportation in the coming months.
“We’re back at square one,” said Cesar Vargas, the executive director of Dream Action Coalition, an immigrant advocacy group.
“Last week, I was moved to tears of joy when Democrats stood up and fought for progressive values and for Dreamers. Today, I am moved to tears of disappointment and anger that Democrats blinked,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of the pro-immigrant America’s Voice, in a statement.
President Trump ended the DACA program—which shields undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors from deportation and allows them to work legally in the country—in September with a six-month delay, providing a window for lawmakers to find a legislative fix. The administration gave the program’s beneficiaries, whose work permits were set to expire between September and March, a month to apply for a two-year renewal. Some have already lost their permit: Each day, 122 DACA recipients lose their protections, according to the liberal Center for American Progress.
Immigration activists have cited the March 5 deadline as reason to agree on a legislative solution—and fast. While DACA recipients will not lose their protections en masse that date, they will begin to do so over the course of the subsequent months. (A recent court ruling allows DACA enrollees to apply for a two-year renewal, but does not require the administration to take new applications.)
“Congress votes on a 3 week CR w/out #DreamAct. Dems failed to fight & use their leverage to protect immigrant youth. A false promise to vote on immigration from Rs is not a strategy to win. We won’t be fooled. This vote means deportation. Won’t stop fighting!” said Cristina Jimenez, the executive director of United We Dream, the largest immigrant-youth organization in the country, on Twitter.
Vargas likened the Schumer-McConnell agreement to 2013 when the Senate eventually passed a comprehensive immigration bill, but fell flat in the House. “I see this as a repeat of 2013 where we’re going to have this fanfare of a possible immigration deal from the Senate, only to fail or linger in the House of Representatives,” Vargas said.