On January 21, Senate Democrats forced a government shutdown (experts estimate that the last federal shutdown cost the economy $1.5 billion a day) after the upper chamber was unable to agree on a stopgap spending bill. Democrats dug their heels in, saying they wouldn’t support a bill that didn’t defend DACA — a policy that protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrant youth known as Dreamers that were brought to the U.S. as minors — and the children’s health program CHIP. In September 2017, President Trump rescinded DACA, an Obama-era immigration program, placing the fate of a very vulnerable population in the hands of Congress and leaving the country at large in a state of limbo.
The Democrats played their trump card by allowing the government shutdown, but folded their hand just three days later following an announcement by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for it to re-open. Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) struck a deal that would allow the government to resume business as usual while continuing to negotiate the terms of DACA by February 8.
McConnell publicly pledged to consider taking up a vote pertaining to DACA before the February deadline, with longtime DACA champion and Democratic leader Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) saying he’s hopeful that a bipartisan Senate bill will actually happen. DACA proponents have good reason to be pissed if not deeply concerned about the future of Dreamers as it’s anyone’s guess if a legitimate DACA bill will come to pass, let alone what else would be tied to it.
Pro-DACA activists have criticized Schumer’s decision to fold, and even prominent members of the Democratic Party— such as Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA)— expressed their disapproval as well.
On January 23, several organizations, including the leaders of the Women’s March, the Center for Popular Democracy in Action, United We Dream and more, gathered on Capitol Hill for the D.C. Rally for Dreamers. On Facebook, the organizers wrote that the purpose of the rally was in response to the Senate Democrats’ decision to end the shutdown without a guarantee for the DREAM Act.
The program officially ends in March, so clearly time is running out. Immigration activists have called on leaders in both the House and the Senate to ensure a clean DREAM Act, which would defend the rights of undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and offer them a pathway to citizenship without funding Trump’s coveted border wall. According to an NBC News survey, most Americans support DACA and 71 percent feel Dreamers should be offered a chance to apply for legal status.
As with every major decision in Washington, there are always a dizzying number of sides and angles, and as minority leader Schumer is in a tough spot. But It’s clear from the Senate’s actions that in order to protect Dreamers the energy is going to have to keep coming from the bottom-up and not naively waiting for a top-down approach. Unfortunately for DACA proponents, their biggest advocates in Congress are in the minority and are dealing with a bleak reality when it comes to the balance of power.
What you can do:
The fate of DACA is a national issue that impacts us all. If you want to support Dreamers and move your elected officials to support equitable immigration policy and ensure the passage of a clean DREAM Act now:
Also, the advocacy organization MoveOn.org is asking allies of dreamers to join them in holding Congress accountable for the Dream Act and other social issues embedded in the spending bill, which includes health care and disaster relief. You can either join a local event or start your own.
And then some:
Several public figures have spoken out in defense of dreamers. Actor Kal Penn, best known for his portrayal of the weed-loving stoner Kumar from the Harold and Kumar film series, spoke out on Twitter against the premature end to the shutdown.
This isn’t Penn’s first foray into the political arena, he was an appointee in the Obama White House as the associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Senator Kamala Harris took to Twitter as well to express her dissatisfaction with Senate’s decision to cave on the DREAM Act.
Bernie Sanders, a vocal supporter of dreamers, was quoted by the ACLU online advocating for a clean DREAM Act.