The Fight for the DREAM Act: We’re Just Getting Started

Last week was filled with a number of twists and turns in the immigrant rights movement and OneAmerica was at the helm of advocating for a resolution for the million undocumented young people living in the US. On Thursday, February 15th the United States Senate voted on four immigration related bill, three of which provided some type of relief for Dreamers. OneAmerica and our partners worked hard to do quick analysis on these proposals and provide input to our senators on how closely  they align with our principles. In the end, as a coalition, we only supported one proposal, the McCain-Coons amendment which including a version of the Dream Act. 

The other three proposals, ultimately did more harm than good for our communities given they attempted to expand the deportation force and slash other parts of the legal immigration system.  In the end, none of the options received the 60 votes necessary to overcome a procedural motion that would have allowed a final vote on a bill.  For now, the Senate’s failure to advance a solution to the President’s rescission of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) means that on March 5, thousands of young undocumented Americans who know no other home will lose DACA and be vulnerable to detention and deportation. This is a very difficult time for so many in our community whose futures’ hang in the balance and strive to center on our communities stories in the midst of what seems to be a never ending political  negotiations.

One thing to remember is that US Citizenship and Immigration Service continues to accept applications for renewal of DACA for those who are currently beneficiaries of the program.  Federal Courts in California and New York have forced the federal government to continue to receive renewal applications.  However, this is only a temporary solution.  The Department of Justice has appealed these court orders to the Supreme Court, which may hear these cases later this spring. And these aren’t the only lawsuits moving through America’s judicial system.  OneAmerica is party to one of these lawsuits still pending before a federal district court in Maryland.

Here are some of our takeaways from the votes in the Senate on February 15th.

  • The primary blame falls on President Trump.  First he rescinded DACA back in September 2017, creating this crisis.  Then he confused matters by failing to engage in genuine negotiations over the program with Members of Congress.  Then he actively opposed the two bipartisan proposals that were brought to the Senate floor.  Instead, he threw his weight behind a far reaching proposal that would have set aside $25 billion for a southern border wall and made significant changes to America’s immigration system, aimed at reducing the number of people of color able to immigrate to the United States.  Perhaps the good news in all this is that the President’s proposal, championed by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, failed with 60 Senators voting against it.
  • The debate over immigration has shifted to restrictions on legal immigration.  On the one hand, a majority of Senators (Democrat and Republican) support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth.  The debate over the DREAM Act shifted to what the price of the DREAM Act would be, as undocumented youth and their families were held hostage to proposals to drastically increase immigration enforcement, end the diversity visa program, to limit the ability of future citizens to petition for family members, and to roll back family-based immigration.
  • The Senate and House Democratic leadership lacked the political will to use their leverage when it mattered most.  The outcome of the DREAM Act votes on February 15 was the predictable consequence of a decision by the Democratic leadership to allow a stand-alone vote on the DREAM Act without attaching the DREAM Act to must-pass legislation.  Advocates had pressured Democrats to force a government shut down if the DREAM Act wasn’t included in a spending deal.  When it came down to using their leverage to force a spending deal that included the DREAM Act, the Senate Democrats backed down and agreed to a deal that included other Democratic priorities.

So, what now?  The fight for the DREAM Act continues. In fact, our base community in Yakima immediately hit the streets on Saturday with a peace walk for the Dream Act.  The Senate and House still have time to pass legislation prior to the March 5th deadline on DACA, but time is running out.  Congress is currently on recess the week of February 19th, and it’s vital that constituents and stakeholders make clear to their Representatives that there must be a compassionate and narrow, long term solution to the crisis created when the President ended DACA.  And if all else fails, it’s still within the power of Congress to pass a short term solution to protect DACA beneficiaries from being deported when DACA expires.

Finally, let’s remember all that we accomplished thus far: a cohesive people powered movement directly lead by undocumented communities and other immigrant allies with strong principles that we have adhered to regardless of attempts to split our communities.  As a movement, we brought the federal government to the point of shut down, we forced a vote on DACA in the Senate, and we’re going toe-to-toe with the President’s white supremacist agenda.  Here in Washington, two of our Republican House Members have taken public positions in support of a bipartisan solution to DACA’s rescission, and on more than one occasion, we successfully pressured our Democratic members of Congress to vote against spending bills that failed to address DACA’s rescission.

At the same time, the alliances among the immigrant and refugee community and the broader movement of progressive organizations, business associations and faith organizations is stronger than ever. One our allies Pilar Marrero reminded us of this, “ What the mainstream media won’t tell you is this: this debate wasn’t about Democrats not wanting a solution, it was about a strong dreamer movement that became so relevant and high profile that Trump wanted to use their considerable approval rating –higher than his- to pass the most xenophobic, draconian and expensive anti-immigrant measures. The Democrats couldn’t give away a huge number of concessions because they had the immigrant rights movement behind them pushing them to do the right thing. In the end, the dreamers didn’t win the Dream Act but they prevented Congress from passing a bill with catastrophic results for the United States and the immigrant community. In summary: Dreamers didn’t want their own legalization if it meant deporting their parents.” We couldn’t agree more Pilar! While the road ahead is long, we are deeply proud of the movement we’ve built, and are certain, this and only this is what will lead to an eventual victory.

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