With prospects dimming for a deal this year to prevent young Dreamers from deportation, sympathetic groups are planning a massive push over the next few weeks to force the issue back to the top of Washington’s agenda.
Activists see their December bid as their last, best shot to save some 800,000 young immigrants protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
They face a a tough challenge, with the White House distracted by tax reform and Congress reluctant to act quickly to save the program.
Calling it illegal, the administration announced in September DACA’s termination would come after a six-month delay to give Congress time to pass a legislative fix that might allow people here illegally to stay in the only country many of them have ever known.
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The multiple initiatives to save the immigrants starts this week, when caravans of Dreamers will start arriving in Washington. Activists are planning rallies in front of the White House, sit-ins on Capitol Hill and other possible acts of civil disobedience.
“People are throwing everything at the wall because they see this as the moment,” said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, which is working with Republicans and Democrats who support protecting DACA recipients.
The business community will set up a “war room” on Dec. 6 inside the Capitol where Republican and Democratic supporters can conduct satellite interviews with national and local press.
The room will include video monitors of interactive maps with data from all 435 congressional districts and live feeds to coordinated rallies in dozens of major cities across the country, including Miami, Raleigh, Sacramento, Kansas City and Boise, among others.
Senate Republicans such as North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who have introduced bills to protect Dreamers, have recorded videos in support of the effort.
The Partnership for a New American Economy also plans to launch a series of national digital ads to draw attention to the effort to support Dreamers.
The efforts face significant roadblocks.
The White House is clearly focused on overhauling the nation’s tax code and signaled Tuesday that its immigration priorities do not include DACA until after the border is secure.
“The President has made clear any immigration reform must first deliver for American citizens and workers. His priorities are securing the border with a wall, closing legal loopholes that enable illegal entry, interior enforcement and combating visa overstays, and ending chain migration,” said Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley.
DACA’s not a must do.
Congressional aide to a senior House Republican
While some DACA recipients were allowed one more extension, those whose protections expire after March 5 will then lose their worker permits and could face deportation orders.
After an initial uproar, momentum has slowed since Trump backed away from a tentative deal to protect the Dreamers with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California reached over Chinese food in September.
Pelosi has since threatened Democrats could withhold support from must-pass spending bills. At a Nov. 9 press briefing, the San Francisco Democrat promised, “we will not leave here without the DREAM Act passing with a DACA fix.” Congress has until Dec. 8 to pass legislation to fund the government.
But even Democrats concede helping Dreamers is not at the top of their to-do list at the moment. Right now, negotiations with Republicans are consumed with hashing out new budget caps, a necessary precursor to a spending agreement.
House Republican leaders are comfortable letting the issue roll into 2018. The party's top priorities are tax reform, spending legislation and disaster aid to pay for hurricane recovery efforts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and for wildfire recovery in California.
They are aware Democrats are going to try to push for DACA to be included in a year-end legislative package.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, speaking via webcast to the Dallas Chamber of Commerce at an event on Dreamer legislation, said he would rather address the issue in December, but because of the tax bill that’s unlikely.
Such attitudes raise grave concerns among Dreamer supporters.
“Two months have now passed, and I’m sad to report that we're arguably further away from a solution today than we were then,” said Neil Bradley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief policy officer.
Political strategists working with Republicans do see signs that the GOP understands the political consequences of not resolving the issue soon.
Earlier this month, more than a dozen Republicans called on leadership to offer a legislative solution this year.
A strategist working with Republicans on immigration said if the party fails to pass a DACA fix, its members risk facing political ads pointing out that they supported spending bills that included money to fund immigration enforcement to deport Dreamers.
“Here is how a member described it to me,” said the strategist, “‘There are going to be 300,000 DACA recipients who lose their benefits before the midterm election. I don’t know if there are going to be press stories about 75 in my district or 7,500 in my district. But I’m going to have to respond to every single one of these that I voted for money that could be used to deport these guys.’”
The President has made clear any immigration reform must first deliver for American citizens.
Hogan Gidley White House Deputy Press Secretary
The strategist, who has also spoken with White House officials, added that the administration privately wants a deal to protect the Dreamers along with more border security and is likely to accept any deal that Congress offers. It’s a way for Trump to say he accomplished something former President Barack Obama couldn’t.
“ ‘That’s a win-win for us, although we don’t publicly want to say that,’” the strategist said, quoting from a conversation he had with a White House official.