Democrats called it the Trump shutdown. Republicans labeled it the Schumer shutdown. But in reality, it was the Dreamer shutdown.
The recipe for the current congressional gridlock is complex, but at the top of the list of ingredients are the illegal immigrant Dreamers who pushed Democrats to launch the filibuster that sent the government careening into a partial shutdown.
It’s a stunning display of political leverage for a group that, at most, numbers several million, can’t vote now, and even under the most generous proposals wouldn’t be able to cast ballots for another decade.
Yet they have amassed an extraordinary amount of power, comparable to the much larger tea party movement that helped precipitate the last shutdown in 2013.
In the wake of Friday’s shutdown vote in the Senate, which dozens of Dreamers watched from the public viewing galleries, they claimed victory.
“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.”
SEE ALSO: Dreamers reject compromise to reopen government
On Sunday, as senators talked of a compromise to reopen the government now with action on immigration next month, Dreamers rallied in a park across the street from the Senate, saying the deal was unacceptable.
“Promises won’t protect anyone from deportation because delay means deportations for us,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, advocacy director for United We Dream. “We need Congress to deliver a breakthrough on the Dream Act to protect immigrant youth now.”
Dreamers began setting up the shutdown showdown last year, soon after President Trump announced a phaseout of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation amnesty that protects some 690,000 of them. They told Democrats to use their filibuster powers in the Senate to deny government funding unless Dreamers were accorded full legal status.
They had little traction at first. But by December, when Congress was debating a third stopgap bill to keep the government open, a number of Democrats announced their support for Dreamers’ demands, voting against funding.
The bill passed anyway, including a 66-32 vote in the Senate, disappointing dozens of Dreamers who had watched from the viewing galleries. Afterward, they and their allies called Democrats “beyond pathetic” for refusing a shutdown showdown. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York came in for particular criticism.
This go-around Mr. Schumer led efforts, even attending a meeting with Mr. Trump on Friday to try to work out a deal for Dreamers. When that fell through, he led the filibuster.
Republicans said immigration was the sticking point.
“The American people cannot begin to understand why the Senate Democratic leader thinks the government should be shut down until he gets his way on illegal immigration,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
Some Democrats, though, insisted the shutdown was much bigger than immigration and balked at the Republicans’ framing.
“For the White House and the leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress to blame Dreamers, young people who have done everything this country has asked of them, for the government shutdown is a new low,” said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “This shutdown is a result of Republican inaction and incompetence.”
The Dreamers’ march to power has been nothing short of stunning.
A decade ago, they were in the shadows as part of the overall population of 12 million illegal immigrants.
But toward the end of the Bush administration and then the beginning of the Obama administration, Dreamers began to “come out,” publicly announcing their status and defying the government to try to deport them.
Since then, they have sat in the first lady’s box at a State of the Union speech, been in the Oval Office at the White House and spoken at the Democratic presidential nominating convention.
They 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, though, are likely to emerge from this shutdown in better shape, with most lawmakers saying they do want to find a solution for them. The chief debates are over the scope of the legalization and what add-ons, such as the border wall and other policy changes, will be attached.
For now, Dreamers and their allies wait along with the rest of the country to see the outcome — though they were emboldened by their show of political muscle.
“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 took their name from the proposed 2010 legislation known as the Dream Act that cleared the House and came close to passing the Senate before falling in a Republican-led filibuster.
The most important deadline for Dreamers is March 5, when Mr. Trump’s phaseout of the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty, protecting some 690,000 Dreamers, begins. More than 100 Dreamers are losing status each day right now, but they are the ones who didn’t manage to renew their status by Homeland Security’s Oct. 5 deadline.