House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Sept. 6, 2017 calling for Congressional Republicans to stand up to President Trump's decision to terminate DACA.
Jose Luis Magana—AP
By Maya Rhodan
January 2, 2018

President Trump and congressional Democrats raised the temperature of a long-running fight over Dreamers Tuesday.

In a tweet Tuesday morning, Trump accused Democrats of empty posturing on protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, arguing that Hispanics will eventually “go hard” against them.

Meantime, Democratic leaders plan to push the White House to protect Dreamers in a Capitol Hill meeting over an unrelated spending deal on Wednesday, a sign that they may push back harder against other Trump priorities until the issue is resolved.

The fight comes as an Obama-era program to defer deportation for immigrants brought as children continues to wind down, ultimately ending in March. About 800,000 immigrants had been shielded from deportation under the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, before the Trump administration ended the program in September.

DACA recipients and their allies had pushed Congress to include a deal in an end-of the year spending bill. But lawmakers punted, voting to keep the government open until early January and leaving that and other decisions on disaster aid and a popular child health-care program for the new year.

The White House would prefer to deal with just the spending issue, characterizing the Wednesday meeting with legislative director Marc Short and budget director Mick Mulvaney as a discussion only on that subject. But Democrats are looking to use the opportunity to lay out their demands. In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent Tuesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi listed funding to address the opioid epidemic, pensions, disaster relief, veterans, the Children’s Health Insurance program and the passage of the Dream Act to protect the undocumented among their priorities.

“We are firmly committed to swiftly passing the DREAM Act, which we know would pass with bipartisan support if brought to the Floor,” the letter reads.

Democrats are under immense pressure from their grassroots to protect Dreamers. In the weeks before the end of the year, immigration advocates and their allies marched, petitioned and planted themselves on the National Mall to call for action ahead of a late-December spending deadline. But because House Republicans were able to pass a short-term spending bill without Democratic support, lawmakers lost their leverage to force a vote before leaving town for the holidays. With a Jan. 19 deadline rapidly approaching, Democrats are again looking to pressure the GOP.

When it comes to DACA, though, Republican leaders have insisted that lawmakers have some time to hash out a deal before so-called Dreamers begin losing their protections en masse.“There’s no emergency,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in December. “The president has given us to March to address it.” (In reality, immigrants have steadily lost protection from deportation since the fall.)

When the Trump Administration ended DACA in September, it gave recipients whose benefits expired by or before March 5, 2018, a month to renew the work permits and deportation deferrals that allow them to stay in the U.S. But around 22,000 immigrants were unable to renew and will lose protection by or before March 5, 2018. The left-leaning Center for American Progress estimates that more than 14,000 people have lost protections since the Trump Administration — around 122 recipients per day.

Says Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, a leading advocacy organization: “Trump and the Republican leadership are like, well there’s no urgency, but you created the crisis. And you will go down in history as the party that subjected young Americans to being deported to countries they don’t even remember.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that something should be done to protect DACA recipients who were brought to the U.S. as children. There is disagreement, however, on what that deal should look like; who will be protected, whether or not immigrants should be able to become citizens and some of the hardline principles the president has said he wants included.

Following a late December meeting with White House officials who laid out some of their proposals, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois told ABC News “we have a long way to go.”

Trump, meantime, has tied protection for Dreamers to his own demands, arguing in a December tweet that there “can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern border” and other hardline immigration changes.

President Trump has long sent mixed signals over the DACA program. On the campaign trail, he called it “illegal amnesty” and promised to terminate the program immediately if elected. Shortly after taking office, though, he promised to show “great heart” in his approach.

But not long after Trump effectively agreed to a deal in a meeting with Democratic leaders, the White House issued a list of hardline demands it would want in exchange for a deal on the program. “I wouldn’t do a DACA plan without a wall. Because we need it. We see the drugs pouring into the country, I wouldn’t do a DACA plan without a wall,” he told the New York Times last week.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that something should be done to protect DACA recipients who were brought to the U.S. as children. There is disagreement, however, on what that deal should look like; who will be protected, whether or not immigrants should be able to become citizens and some of the hardline principles the president has said he wants included. Bipartisan negotiations on a deal are still ongoing. A Democratic aide tells TIME that Senators hope to reach a deal to pass the Dream Act as soon as possible.

Immigration advocates pushed back on Trump’s Tuesday tweet saying lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are at fault.

“BOTH parties have failed us for almost two decades since the Dream Act was introduced,” Erika Andiola, a DACA recipient and former press secretary for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted. “Let’s get the facts straight. YOU took our DACA away @realDonaldTrump. YOU ran on a platform to deport us. We will not forget. #NoDreamNoDeal”

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