Dems Dig in on Immigration 01/18 06:12
Congressional Democrats aren't backing down from their threats to reject any
government funding bill that isn't paired with protection for thousands of
young immigrants, as hard-line liberal groups shrug off risks of a government
NEW YORK (AP) -- Congressional Democrats aren't backing down from their
threats to reject any government funding bill that isn't paired with protection
for thousands of young immigrants, as hard-line liberal groups shrug off risks
of a government shutdown.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said Wednesday there's "very, very strong"
sentiment among his party's lawmakers to oppose GOP-drafted legislation that
would only keep the government's doors open for four weeks past a looming
Friday deadline. Schumer did not say his caucus was entirely unified, but the
rhetoric signaled growing chances that a stop-gap measure could come up short
of votes in the Senate and federal agencies could begin closing their doors
Friday at midnight.
"The overwhelming number in our caucus have said they don't like this deal
and they believe if we kick the can down the road this time we'll be back where
we started from next time," Schumer told reporters. "So there's very, very
strong support not to go along with their deal."
The hardening stance reflects the influence of an emboldened Democratic base
clamoring for a showdown with a president many on the left view as racist and
untrustworthy. The fight over the fate of the "dreamers" --- some 700,000
people who were brought to the U.S. as children and are now here illegally ---
is increasingly becoming a test of Democrats' progressive mettle, surpassing
health care or taxes as the top year-two priority for the liberal base.
"It needs to be very clear for vulnerable Republicans as well as for
Democrats who do not act this week that there will be political consequences,"
said Cristina Jimenez of the immigrant activist group United We Dream. "The
progressive movement who are going to be the boots on the ground for the
Democrats to regain power" in November's midterm elections, she added, "are
going to hold them accountable if they don't come through."
On Capitol Hill, Democrats are being urged to let federal funding expire
unless Republicans and President Donald Trump agree to extend the expiring
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Protesters have rallied at
offices of Senate Democrats, threatened primary foes for those who don't push
hard enough for an immigration deal and promised to brand those deemed to have
fallen short "the deportation caucus."
That approach undoubtedly comes with risks for the moderates in the party
--- senators from states won by Trump such as West Virginia, Montana and
Indiana. While the tough talk carries weight in some Democratic circles, it's
far from clear other voters will look kindly on using federal agencies as
leverage in the fight over immigration.
Trump has telegraphed how the GOP would attack Democrats should there be a
shutdown this weekend.
"The Democrats want to shut down the government over amnesty for all and
border security," Trump tweeted Tuesday. "The biggest loser will be our rapidly
rebuilding Military, at a time we need it more than ever."
On Wednesday, ongoing talks over a deal showed no signs of progress. White
House Chief of Staff John Kelly met with members of the Congressional Hispanic
Caucus and expressed vague optimism about prospects --- but attendees said
Kelly would not commit to supporting one bipartisan proposal, introduced
Tuesday by Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., which
would provide protection for immigrants brought into the U.S. as young people
and add resources for border security.
Immigration activists have been gearing up for this fight for months.
Clashes over health care and taxes dominated Trump's initial year in office,
even as his administration cracked down on illegal immigration. The
administration has given agents leeway to detain and try to deport a wide range
of people in the country illegally, from criminals to otherwise law-abiding
residents with jobs and U.S.-citizen children.
Those actions did not require congressional approval, and there was limited
pressure activists could bring compared to the battle that helped stall repeal
of President Barack Obama's health care law.
That changed in September when Trump announced he'd end, effective March 5,
Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which let hundreds of thousands
avoid deportation and legally work. Trump tossed the issue to Congress to act
before March. That also turned the spotlight on those who have benefited from
DACA, men and women who were raised in the United States and are the most
sympathetic face of the immigrant rights movement.
The Trump administration was "out in front, advancing their agenda and they
were basically getting away with it," said Frank Sharry of America's Voice, an
immigrant rights group. "Then they picked a fight with well-organized, American
kids. They picked the wrong fight and it's brought attention to all their
It was during Oval Office negotiations over a potential DACA replacement
last week that, in the course of dismissing one deal negotiated by Senate
Democrats and Republicans, Trump used a vulgar word to describe African
countries and wondered why the U.S. doesn't get more immigrants from places
like Norway. That stiffened the resolve of liberal groups to push for a DACA
deal this week, at the moment they feel Democrats have maximum leverage.
"Everything we've seen from this administration has been this effort to
remove people of color and streamline the process for white people," said Angel
Padilla of the anti-Trump group Indivisible. "This week is an opportunity for
Congress to reject that racism."
Corey Stewart, a pro-Trump Republican Senate candidate in Virginia, said
Trump is picking the right battle.
"It's a smart fight," Stewart said. "His biggest promise of the campaign
trail was to crack down on illegal immigration and build a border wall. He
cannot back down on this."
Still, Republicans fear they may lose their majority in the House of
Representatives, where several of their vulnerable members represent diverse
districts and support a DACA deal. Immigration advocates are confident popular
opinion is on their side --- people from heads of companies like Amazon, Apple
and Starbucks to TV personality Kim Kardashian have urged a deal.
Todd Schulte of FWD.US, which supports increased immigration, also noted
that people previously safe under DACA already are losing protections every
day. While the program technically doesn't expire until March 5, roughly 100
immigrants a day who didn't renew their enrollment in time are losing
permission to work and protection from being deported. That number will rise to
1,200 a day after March 5.