Illegal immigrant Dreamers said they have been betrayed by Democratic leaders who failed to force a government shutdown showdown this week over demands to pass a legalization bill by the end of the year.
Congressional leaders signaled Wednesday that they will revisit the immigration issue early next year and vowed to complete legislation in January.
That wasn’t cutting it for Dreamers, who had set a year-end deadline and then watched in dismay as Democrats stumbled to deliver on it.
Hundreds of Dreamers, some risking arrest, took to the hallways in Congress to march and conduct lie-downs in office corridors to complain that they have been forgotten.
“We want Dream Act,” protesters chanted. They were referring to a bill that would grant tentative legal status to more than 2 million illegal immigrants and allow 1.7 million of them to earn green cards signifying permanent legal presence, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Final negotiations were continuing late Wednesday over the shape of a get-out-of-town package of bills.
Democratic leaders insisted the Dream Act is still part of negotiations, but Republican aides said Democrats signaled days ago that it wasn’t one of the major sticking points.
The pieces that are in play include an extension of the government’s chief foreign intelligence communications surveillance program, which expires Dec. 31; disaster relief for states and U.S. territories affected by this year’s hurricanes; and a renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a federal-state health program for children whose parents are too wealthy to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to afford their own insurance.
The biggest moving part, however, is a year-end spending bill needed to avoid a government shutdown when current funding expires Friday.
House Republicans have proposed full-year funding for the Defense Department coupled with a four-week extension of current funding for domestic needs, known as a “continuing resolution.” That continuing resolution would force all sides to revisit the domestic programs in January.
Democrats have said they won’t accept that and insist on parity between defense and domestic programs in order to dole out money for veterans’ health, a pension bailout, opioid-fighting programs and medical research.
As of late Wednesday, House Republican leaders were still trying to figure out a path forward. Democrats said they were waiting for Republicans.
“Unless we see a respect for our values and priorities, we continue to urge a strong NO on the continuing resolution,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, wrote in a letter to her troops.
Rank-and-file Republicans complained that Democrats were pushing Congress toward a government shutdown by threatening an all-or-nothing Senate filibuster.
“The American people sent us the Republican majorities in the House, the Senate and the White House. And we have to get eight votes on the Democrat side, and we should compromise, right? But it should be proportional to Democratic Senate votes,” said Rep. Dave Brat, Virginia Republican.
“That is the crux of the issue,” he said. “They get a fair compromise, but they don’t get to control the Republican agenda.”
Usually it’s Republicans facing calls for a shutdown showdown from their right flank.
But the Dreamers flipped the script, forcing Democrats into a tight spot by demanding a permanent fix after Mr. Trump announced a phaseout of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation amnesty.
Mr. Trump’s phaseout kicks in March 5, but Dreamers set an artificial end-of-year deadline, and Democratic leaders initially agreed that, though some of them have backed off their red line.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has been a leading voice for Dreamers, said he believed his party’s leaders in the House were holding firm in their DACA demand and that some Senate Democrats were also adamant.
But he was less sure about Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “I believe that at this particular moment the onus is on Sen. Schumer,” Mr. Gutierrez said.
Dreamers were more pointed, saying Mr. Schumer was betraying them.
“Time and time again, politicians have failed to stand by our community,” said Cata Santiago. “Now, at the peak of the Dream Act fight, Chuck Schumer and the Democrats won’t hold their promises to protect us.”
Ms. Santiago was arrested last week while protesting in Mr. Schumer’s congressional office and stayed in custody by refusing to identify herself to police. She and a handful of other Dreamers who were also arrested staged a hunger strike in jail.
They decided to leave jail on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Mr. Schumer said Wednesday morning that he has been trying to find a DACA answer for weeks.
“Because of the particular importance of all of these issues, especially the Dreamers, we cannot do a short-term funding bill that picks and chooses what problems to solve and what not to solve. That will not be fair and will not pass. We have to do them all together, instead of in a piecemeal fashion,” he said.
Dreamers and their defenders did not blame only Democratic leaders; several dozen Republicans said they wanted a DACA solution this year.
Mr. Gutierrez said if those Republicans had joined forces with Democrats in refusing to vote for any year-end bill that doesn’t include the Dream Act, then they could have forced Republican leaders’ hands.
Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who has been pushing for the Dream Act, said Wednesday that he has assurances the DACA issue will be taken up in January. He said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, “has committed to bring the bipartisan DACA bill we are currently negotiating to the Senate floor” next month.
Mr. Gutierrez said Dreamers can’t bank on another promise. “It’s very easy for Sen. Flake to send out a tweet this morning and say, ‘Dreamers in January.’ His kids aren’t getting deported. He’s going home to his wife. He’s celebrating Christmas,” he said.