Every election cycle Democrats court the Latino vote with promises of immigration reform. Yet, our immigration system has not undergone any major improvements since 1986, under a Republican President. That stagnation reflects a series of promises the Democratic party has not kept. The latest is in the process of being broken right now, as Democrats decline to force a vote to legalize hundreds of thousands of young undocumented Americans, known as DREAMers, according to the Washington Post.
President Donald Trump upended the lives of over 800,000 DREAMers when he terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on September 5 of this year. The Obama administration implemented DACA in 2012, and provided young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children a two-year work permit, and protection from deportation. Each day since Trump pulled the plug, over 100 more people become subject to deportation, and lose their ability to work, go to school, or even drive, as driver’s licenses are tied to DACA status. The total number now stands at over 12,000. Beginning March, 2018—a deadline the Trump administration set arbitrarily—that number will skyrocket to 1,700 people each day, until all 800,000 DREAMers become subject to deportation.
Democrats have made big promises to protect DREAMers. “The credibility of the Democratic Party is at stake. DREAMers have been told that Democrats would do whatever it takes to get the DREAM Act done. A vote to delay the DREAM Act is a vote to deport DREAMers,” said Marielena Hincapie, the Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center, NILC, where I serve on the board of directors.
The DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, was first introduced in 2001. It failed. When it was reintroduced in 2010, it failed again because five democratic senators voted against it. A 2010 Politico article read, “The DREAM Act would have passed if Democrats had shown unity on the measure.” Only one of those defecting senators, Jon Tester of Montana, is still in office today, and when Trump rescinded DACA, he issued a statement calling on Congress to “provide a way forward for innocent kids.”
Nevertheless, we are on the verge of reliving history.
The Republican-led Congress has until December 22 to pass a bill to fund the government and they need Democratic votes to avoid a government shutdown. If Republicans can’t present Democrats a bill that Democrats can vote for, then they will shut down their own government, meaning Democrats have all the leverage they need to demand a legislative solution for DREAMers.
In a tweet, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine’s Communication Director, responded to my critique of the Kaine’s unwillingness to withhold his vote.
i don’t think this is fair. kaine is a vocal and aggressive champion to restore daca protections, even urging they be included in CR if a standalone dream act was not passed. he is just adamantly against a govt shutdown b/c of its devastating economic impact on virginia.
— Ian Sams (@IanSams) December 19, 2017
But vocal is not enough. Statements and tweets will not prevent DREAMers from being torn apart from their families and following the path of the millions of undocumented immigrants who have already suffered deportation—over 2.5 million people have been deported since 2008. If Democrats are serious about protecting DREAMers, there is only one way to show it: demand a vote on a clean DREAM Act before December 22nd.
“A vote for the spending bill without the DREAM Act is a moral failure, and we call on congressional Democrats to do the right thing for families ahead of the holidays.” Cristobal J. Alex, President of the Latino Victory Fund, said.
Democrats from conservative states and districts that Trump won are worried about losing their seats if they hold the line and force a vote on the DREAM Act before the end of the year. But if they lose their seats, it will be because they showed no spine, instead of standing to do the right thing. Democrats should be worried about the increasingly active and involved faction of their base that will remember who voted for a spending bill without the DREAM Act, and thus voted to deport DREAMers. After all, the spending bill includes funding for interior enforcement that would target DREAMers for deportation.
Politico reports that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is working with senators, including immigration hardliner John Cornyn (R-TX), on a DACA fix, and “will soon present a list of border security and other policy changes it wants as part of a broader deal on so-called DREAMers.” It’s possible that the White House will operate in good faith for once, and honor its end of a DACA fix, even after Democrats have surrendered their leverage. But Democrats shouldn’t trust this White House to keep its word, or a nativist like John Kelly to make demands that Democrats can accept.
As a Latina voter, I am tired of empty promises to help my community. We will no longer be backdrops at campaign rallies, subjects of feel-good tweets, or faces in photos-ops for Democrats who do not hold the line on the DREAM Act. But there is still time for Democrats in Congress to stand on the right side of history. I hope they will.