Democrats called it the Trump shutdown. Republicans labeled it the Schumer shutdown. But in reality, it was the Dreamer shutdown.
Illegal immigrant Dreamers had for months begged Democrats to block funding for the government unless the bill granted them citizenship rights. On Friday Democrats heeded that call, mounting a filibuster of a four-week spending bill, denying the government the cash it needs to remain open.
In the wake of the shutdown Dreamers cheered, saying they were finally being taken seriously.
“We know that the public is on our side,” Cata Santiago, a Dreamer, said in a statement. “We are calling for the immigrant community and our allies to take to the streets immediately to demand that Congress pass legislation guaranteeing permanent protection for immigrant youth NOW.”
Dozens of Dreamers were in the Senate’s viewing galleries Friday night watching as the drama unfolded beneath them. Police were gathered in force just outside the galleries with piles of plastic handcuffs, prepared for the kinds of protests and mass arrests Dreamers have fostered around the Capitol in recent weeks.
There were no disturbances in the galleries, but there was plenty of confusion among senators, who seemed stunned that they actually careened into a shutdown despite Democrats and Republicans saying they didn’t want one.
“Almost everybody on both sides doesn’t understand how we ended up here,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
He laid blame squarely at the feet of the Dreamer debate, saying Democrats held the entire process — a two-year budget, money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and other needs — hostage to the immigration talks.
Democrats suggested there were other sticking points, but acknowledged immigration and the fate of the Dreamers was the chief hurdle. But they said the hold-up was President Trump’s demands for major changes in immigration policy, which the White House said had to be passed along with any action on Dreamers.
“What happened to President Trump who asked us to come up with a deal? He backed off at the first sign of pressure,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said.
The Dreamers and their immigrant-rights allies now find themselves in the same position as conservative and tea party groups, who pressured Republicans into an Obamacare-fueled shutdown in 2013.
That shutdown lasted 16 days, and Republicans relented in the end, walking away with no substantive gains.
Dreamers are likely to emerge from this shutdown in better shape, with most lawmakers saying they do want to find a solution for them.
Early Saturday morning, after the votes, Dreamers stood outside the Capitol in small groups. Some seemed stunned by the turn of events, while others danced to music playing from their iPhones.
For now the Dreamers await along with the rest of the country to see the outcome — though they were emboldened by their show of political power.
For now, though, the Dreamers await along with the rest of the country — though they were emboldened by the show of political power.
“Our fight has never been about a government shutdown; it’s about a policy breakthrough. It’s not about political advantage; it’s about people’s lives,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration lobby group. “Victory is close. We won’t stop until we achieve it.”
Deemed the most sympathetic figures in the immigration debate, most Dreamers were brought to the U.S. by parents with little say in the decision, and many don’t have substantive memories of their home countries.
They began “coming out” as illegal immigrants in the last decade, and quickly became a political force, earning invitations to the State of the Union address, meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama and addressing the Democratic National Convention.
They came close to a solution in 2010, when legislation known as the Dream Act — which they took their name from — cleared the House and came close to passing the Senate, falling in a GOP-led filibuster.
Their power has grown in the years since, and they felt emboldened last year to demand a shutdown fight. Democrats balked the first few times, but finally agreed to a self-imposed Jan. 19 deadline for action.
Yet the actual firm deadline for Dreamers is March 5, which is when Mr. Trump’s phaseout of the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty, protecting some 690,000 Dreamers, begins to expire. More than 100 Dreamers are losing status each day right now, but those are ones who didn’t manage to renew their status by Homeland Security’s Oct. 5 deadline.
Still, Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who has led the fight on their behalf for years, said it was a travesty for Congress to have not solved their situation.
“To say we’re in no hurry — well, we may not be as senators and congressmen, but these young people are in a hurry to find out whether or not they have a life. That’s what it comes down to,” Mr. Durbin said.
Republicans countered that they, too, wanted to grant long-term certainty to Dreamers, but didn’t want a new amnesty to invite another wave of illegal immigration. They demanded more border security and other policy changes be tied to any Dreamer legislation.
“We cannot deal with the issue of individuals in our country illegally … and ignore how it happened in the first place,” said Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican.