Illegal immigrant Dreamers descended on Democrats’ national headquarters in Washington on Monday, staging a sit-in and vowing to make sure the party gets at least some of the blame as Congress slipped past President Trump’s March 5 deadline for action on DACA.
While the deadline lacked the urgency it once had, thanks to several court decisions keeping the Obama-era tentative deportation amnesty going, it maintains much of its political salience.
The protesters who blocked the doors to the Democratic National Committee on Monday said there is blame to spread around, but they wanted to make sure Democrats felt much of the pressure, accusing the party’s leaders of a decade of betrayal culminating in this week’s failure.
“This party has shown me nothing but pain,” said Maria Duarte, a DACA recipient dressed in pink Hello Kitty pajamas and clutching a stuffed animal as she blocked the doors. She was choked with emotion as she shouted through a bullhorn, saying she “lost family members” to enforcement under the Obama administration.
President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in June 2012 as he was campaigning for re-election. The protesters said the move was designed to stave off potential electoral disaster.
More than 800,000 people won protection over the years, and some 683,000 people are currently protected. They have renewable two-year stays of deportation and are entitled to work permits, which can earn them driver’s licenses, Social Security numbers and even some taxpayer benefits.
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But the program was legally suspect. Facing threats of a lawsuit, Mr. Trump last year announced a phaseout, giving Congress six months to come up with a more permanent solution.
Now it’s the phaseout that is legally troubled. Two federal courts have ordered Mr. Trump to keep processing renewal applications, making the March 5 deadline less critical.
Yet a third federal judge ruled late Monday, upholding Mr. Trump’s phaseout. For now, the decision does not surmount the original two court rulings, but Judge Roger W. Titus’ 30-page opinion does give some legal heft as the Justice Department defends the president’s decisions in higher courts.
Activists, meanwhile, said March 5 remained the critical political deadline, serving as a milepost with midterm elections looming and both sides looking to avoid blame on an issue where an overwhelming majority of voters believe the Dreamers deserve legal status.
DNC Chairman Tom Perez said it was Mr. Trump’s “cruel and reckless decision” to phase out DACA that spurred “an unnecessary crisis.”
“And now his arbitrary deadline has passed without any action from the president or Republicans in Congress,” Mr. Perez said.
Indeed, most immigrant rights groups, while wishing Democrats had fought more strenuously, do place blame on Mr. Trump and defend a program that they used to decry as a Band-Aid solution.
But the activists who protested outside DNC headquarters Monday said Democrats missed too many chances to help.
“You are losing people in this party,” said Roberto Juarez, an organizer with the Seed Project, which staged Monday’s protest. He held up his voter registration card and recounted his days of working to elect Mr. Obama in 2008.
“I lied to my community because I told them we could pass immigration reform in the first 100 days if we voted him in,” Mr. Juarez said. “What happened? More deportations than any other president.”
Protesters said Democrats had multiple chances to force the issue over the past few months by holding up government funding until legal status was granted.
Democrats did force a brief government shutdown in January but quickly relented in exchange for promises of a Senate debate.
When that debate began, however, it was anticlimactic. Democrats first blocked the freewheeling floor fight all sides had expected, and every plan was defeated when the voting finally began.
The most promising option, a proposal negotiated by moderates from both parties and embraced as Democrats’ leading option, fell six votes shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. That plan would have coupled a generous pathway to citizenship and a tentative deportation amnesty for all 11 million illegal immigrants with border wall funding and small limits on chain migration.
The House, meanwhile, has shunned a floor debate altogether.
A group of conservatives, led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has written a bill that offers a continuation of the DACA program — with critical congressional approval — in exchange for major enforcement enhancements and changes to legal immigration policy.
But House Republican leaders who tested the bill’s popularity among their ranks say it’s short of the support needed and it’s unclear whether they can bridge the gap.
Democrats predict that if Republicans relented and brought up one of several bipartisan bills, such as a proposal to extend a generous pathway to citizenship in exchange for promises of future border security, there would be majority support to pass it.
At a press conference Monday, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said it was “shameful” for Republican leaders not to hold votes. They also predicted that Mr. Trump would take the brunt of the blame.
“Let’s all be clear that President Trump ended DACA. The responsibility lies on his shoulders,” Rep. Raul Ruiz, California Democrat, told reporters at the press conference.
The White House said Mr. Trump has done his part, pointing to his middle-ground proposal that coupled citizenship rights for up to 1.8 million illegal immigrants with a plan to build his border wall, limit the chain of family migration and change the law to allow for faster deportations of new illegal immigrants.
Democrats, though, called the enforcement changes too harsh, while House conservatives said the amnesty was too generous.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “absolutely terrible that Congress has failed to act.”
“The president gave Congress six months, and he also gave them a plan,” she said. “They claim to want to fix DACA. The president laid out a pathway and an exact way to do that. They failed to address it, but we’re still hopeful that Congress will actually do their jobs, show up and get something done and fix this problem, not kick it down the road and not continue to ignore it.”