Dreamers Don’t Trust Democrats to Fix DACA in 2018

David Noriega, Vice News, December 28, 2017

For Dreamers and the undocumented youth movement, 2017 ended as it began: badly.

As recently as this month, Democratic leaders promised activists that they would push Congress to a solution on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals before the end of the year. President Trump had, in September, canceled the Obama administration program, which gave work permits and protection from deportation to close to a million undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children, and Dreamers were hopeful that Democrats would make it a priority to come up with a replacement. Last week, Democrats reneged on their promise, declining to fight for a DACA replacement in a year-end spending bill to avert a government shutdown — the only real opportunity they had to force the Republicans’ hand on the matter.

“Nancy Pelosi looked me in the face and said, ‘We are going to get this done by the end of the year,’” said Adrian Reyna, an advocate with United We Dream, the most prominent advocacy group for Dreamers in the country. “We can’t be living our lives on false promises. We don’t have the luxury to do that.”

That leaves the Dreamers, as recipients of DACA protection are known, facing a bleak and uncertain 2018, newly aware that the Democratic Party is willing to go only so far in its fight for them. Some moderate Republicans have expressed a desire to legalize the Dreamers, too, but revisiting DACA is far from a priority for the GOP at large, and any bipartisan solution will involve exacting negotiations over ramped-up immigration enforcement. For now, the Democratic leadership is telling advocates that all hope is not lost: Technically, Congress has until March 5 to act.

“They argue that we’re still very much alive,” said Frank Sharry, founder and director of America’s Voice, a longtime lobbying group for immigration reform in Washington. Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin, the leading Democrats in the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, did not respond to requests for comment.

In the meantime, DACA recipients are losing their status, according to some estimates, by the hundreds every day; those who do can no longer legally work in the U.S. and are at constant risk of deportation.

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The end of DACA showed how much the undocumented youth movement has evolved in the decade or so since its inception. Early waves of activism for the DREAM Act relied heavily on the narrative of Dreamers as blameless overachievers deserving of protection — high school valedictorians who “did nothing wrong.” But, over the years, activists came to reject this frame, because it excluded and cast as undeserving any undocumented immigrants who did not fit that mold — most notably, the Dreamers’ own parents.

Since September, most undocumented youth organizations have called for what’s come to be known as a “clean DREAM Act,” meaning a replacement for DACA that stands alone — rather than one that comes in exchange for more border security and expanded immigration enforcement, which is what Trump and congressional Republicans have said they want. And they’ve ratcheted up the pressure on Democrats to adopt the same line: In September, a group of activists mercilessly heckled Nancy Pelosi for supposedly making a deal with Trump exchanging a DACA replacement for more border security, shouting “We are not a bargaining chip” and “All of us or none of us.”

The argument in favor of a clean bill was clearest for Dreamers living along the U.S.-Mexico border, where 30 years and billions of dollars’ worth of border security have created a regime that immigrant communities frequently describe as oppressive. {snip}

The two likeliest scenarios, then, are a DACA replacement with major enforcement provisions, or no DACA replacement at all. Either option would sow discord among immigration advocates and deepen an already existing disillusionment with the Democratic party within the movement. It’s the Democrats, after all, who failed to pass both comprehensive immigration reform and a much more limited, broadly popular DREAM Act under much friendlier political climates. That disillusionment could accelerate a general shift away from electoral politics and toward ground-level movement building, civil disobedience, and other tactics meant to sway the public’s perceptions of undocumented immigrants rather than achieve concrete policy goals — what activists call the “outside game.”

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And even those organizations that are still working with politicians say their patience is running thin. “We’re going to have to start talking about accountability for the Democrats,” said Reyna, of United We Dream. “If we end up in the same place, we’re committed to ensuring that there’s not a day they can go up on a stage and talk about immigrant rights without looking like hypocrites, like people who threw us under the bus. And they will feel that in 2018.”

 

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