WASHINGTON ― The chances of passing protections for
undocumented young people this year are all but dead in the
Senate, but House Democrats insisted on Wednesday that they
aren’t giving up, raising the specter of a government shutdown
if they hold the line.
It’s a big if.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged Democratic
members in a letter on Wednesday to vote against a
yet-to-be-released government spending bill ”[u]nless we see a
respect for our values and priorities” ― one of them being
support for legal status for so-called Dreamers, the young
undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as
Immigration reform advocates believe the government funding
bill, which must pass by Friday to avoid a shutdown, is the best hope for
passing protections for Dreamers who are at risk of losing
work permits and deportation protections they received under
the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which
President Donald Trump rescinded in September. Some are already
at risk, and if Congress does nothing, nearly 700,000 of them
will eventually be in danger of being deported as their
two-year permits expire, at a rate of close to 1,000 per day
beginning in March.
Multiple Democrats and a small number of Republicans have said
they won’t vote for a spending bill without those protections.
But the gambit is almost certainly doomed in the Senate, where
several Democrats have said they are
willing to vote with Republicans to avoid a shutdown, even
if it means Dreamers have to wait for protections.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a stalwart
immigration reform advocate who said he would vote against a
spending bill without Dreamer provisions, acknowledged on
Wednesday that it is unlikely such a deal will come together by
Friday, although he will keep fighting for one.
“I’m sorry,” Durbin said about he would like to tell Dreamers.
“I’m sorry that what we thought would be a moment and an
opportunity did not happen.”
Republican leaders, including Trump, have insisted they can
kick the issue to January. Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement on Wednesday that he
would bring a bill to the Senate floor for “a free-standing
vote” if bipartisan negotiators come to an agreement on DACA,
border security, interior enforcement and other immigration
matters by the end of January.
That’s a frightening prospect for Dreamers and their allies,
who note that an average of 122 DACA recipients already lose
status each day and that the path forward in January isn’t so
“What folks are wondering, most especially the people
impacted by this, is when we’re going to make our stand. …
We’re certainly making it now.” Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas)
Durbin, who is part of the bipartisan talks, said that at
a Tuesday evening meeting
of the group, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly laid
out “the anti-immigration wishlist” the administration wants in
exchange for protections for the Dreamers Trump put at
If the administration sticks to its demands, it could doom the
entire effort because Democrats ― and Dreamers themselves ―
oppose trading protections for a portion of the undocumented
population with measures that would imperil the rest of it.
“It’s possible to put a bill on the floor, but whether or not
it’s possible to get 60 votes for it is a different question,”
Durbin said, referring to the number needed to avoid a
filibuster in the Senate. “There has to be some give and take.”
That’s exactly why he and other supporters of Dreamers favored
doing something as part of the spending bill, where the broadly
popular issue of legal status for young undocumented immigrants
wouldn’t be sunk by other contentious immigration measures.
In the House, some think it’s still possible it could get into
the spending bill.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), one of only two
Republicans who said they’d oppose a spending bill without
a DACA fix, said he had told Pelosi he believes they “have the
votes to force a compromise before the end of the week.” He
told HuffPost that the later it gets into next year, “the
harder it will be to reach a workable compromise for everyone.”
“It will end up more likely that we just do some patch that
doesn’t meaningfully address this issue,” he said. “We need to
solve this once and for all. These young people have waited too
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a leader on immigration reform
who also pledged to vote against a spending bill unless it
includes Dreamers, said he was “not optimistic” about the
current debate and predicted a grim future if it goes into
negotiations next year.
“Here’s what I imagine will happen in the end: They’ll have a
piece of paper and they’ll tell every Republican, ‘Write what
you want on it,’” he told reporters Wednesday. Giving up
leverage over the spending bill would be the wrong choice, he
said, because “once you give that up, you open a Pandora’s
box of mean, ugly things against Dreamers.”
Gutierrez accused fellow Democrats of not adequately standing
up for the Dreamers, including party leaders, who have
recently emphasized they are making multiple demands for
measures to be attached to a government funding bill, not
just the Dreamer issue. Pelosi’s letter to Democratic
colleagues urging them to vote against the yet-to-be-released
spending bill also mentions the need to address opioid
addiction, veterans aid, and funding for pensions and
the National Institutes of Health.
Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) said she is not ready to
give up on Dreamers and that it’s wrong for other Democrats
to do so.
“I’m disappointed that any Democrat right now would concede
that it’s not going to happen until January,” she told
reporters after a press conference on Wednesday calling for
action for Dreamers. “We have an opportunity here to use the
leverage that we have.”
She and other Congressional Hispanic Caucus members insisted
that on the House side, Democrats are united in wanting to
“What folks are wondering, most especially the people
impacted by this, is when we’re going to make our stand,”
Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) told reporters on Wednesday.
“When are we going to make our stand on this? That’s what
people most of all want to know … We’re certainly
making it now.”
That’s not to say they think it will be easy. Congressional
Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.)
likened the debate to threading a rope through “a needle
that’s the size of a hair, maybe smaller.”
“It’s hard,” she told reporters Wednesday. “And I don’t think
anyone has said we see an easy, crystal clear path, but I’ve
won harder things, so let’s keep fighting.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version
incorrectly referred to Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) by
the name of his brother, Julian Castro.
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