By Jair Bautista
Senate Democrats appeared to stand their ground last Friday when they overwhelmingly voted against a spending bill to fund the government that came without protecting DACA recipients nor securing proper funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and states hit with natural disasters. This vote was a culmination of months of grassroots activists lobbying their representatives, holding protests, getting arrested, and having a strong social media presence.
Look no further than last month when activists pressured Senator Dianne Feinstein to vote no on the Continuing Resolution (CR) bill after her office issued vague statements that were symbolic at best. After days of demonstrations outside both her California and D.C. offices, she changed her tune and assured us that she would vote no on a CR without a clean Dream Act attached to it. Soon after, Democratic leaders got a majority of their caucus to agree on voting against the January 20 resolution if their demands were not met.
But sadly, this newfound courage only lasted until yesterday when all but 16 Senate Democrats caved and voted to reopen the government in good faith that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would make good on his promise to hold a vote on the Dream Act before the new CR expires February 8. Had Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and company firmly kept their demands, a Republican-led Congress and White House would have owned this shutdown. Instead, they threw away their only substantive political leverage, demoralized their base, and got nothing but empty promises in return.
The demands for a clean Dream Act became muddied when reports of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans included language that would hire more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, eliminate family sponsorship, cuts to immigration from certain regions, and provide funding for a border wall. Even with this right-wing friendly compromise, the White House dismissed it and Republicans caved to its demands with not even allowing a vote on it in Congress. This should jolt us and finally cement that there are no so-called moderate immigrant advocates in this administration and no well-meaning intentions to advance even a centrist immigration reform, let alone a progressive one.
This Congress and certainly White House have been very transparent in their anti-immigrant fervor with xenophobes like Stephen Miller, John Kelly, and members of the Freedom Caucus imposing their immigration views on potential legislation. One bill floating around in the House (Securing America’s Future Act) would criminalize recipients for being poor, wouldn’t grant a path to citizenship, and would make it harder for refugees and asylum seekers to be accepted. The terms of this debate have moved so far to the right that we must deny these ideas going mainstream and demand legal status for all of us: DACA, non-DACA, TPSianos, refugees, and our elders.
It’s worth noting that these Republican legislators who deny our struggle based on the “illegal” ways we came here can easily make laws to decriminalize us. And the real reason they won’t legalize us along with our families is because they know we will vote them out of office. It is high time that we see through the smoke and mirrors being sold to us about how bipartisanship around immigration is a difficult thing to reach when this issue has majority support around the country and has been discussed ad nauseam for almost two decades. We’d be sadly and tragically mistaken to suddenly think that in three weeks a never-before-heard argument will surface to put this argument to rest.
With an uncertain future about how this all may play out, we need to be cautious about what deal, if any, comes out of this and, specifically, what parts of our communities may be worse off at the expense of misbegotten protections. Even so, let what has happened before yesterday be a testament that demonstrations and direct actions do work and that people have more power than we’re allowed to think we have.