The Democrats caved. Now we have to act.

January 23, 2018

Popular support for immigrant justice measures like DACA is overwhelming, but the Democrats once again capitulated to Republican hostage-taking.

NOW WE know how long Democratic Party leaders are willing to fight against an unpopular racist president, in support of 800,000 young immigrants who nine out of 10 Americans don't want to see deported, and immediately after millions of people--once again--taking the streets for Women's Marches that expressed a burning desire to stand up to the Trump presidency.

Three days.

The weekend-long federal government shutdown ended on Monday when the Senate voted 81-18 for a short-term spending package that will keep the government operating through February 8.

During that time, over 2,000 more young immigrants--often known as "DREAMers"--will lose their legal protection from deportation.

Democrats had vowed not to agree to a bill funding the government until a deal had been reached to restore protections for immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is set to expire on March 5.

But they broke their promise to immigrants and their supporters in exchange for a "promise" from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the Senate will do something at some point about the DREAMers.

Protesters rally outside the U.S. Capitol in defense of DACA
Protesters rally outside the U.S. Capitol in defense of DACA (New York Immigration Coalition | Facebook)

Alida Garcia, the national Latino vote deputy director for Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, rightfully responded with bitter anger to this betrayal, via Twitter:

I'm leaving the Democratic Party today. They're complicit w/ every single young person living in fear. Every pain Latino & immigrant families feel from here out is 100% due to @TheDemocrats not fully embracing us as American. Implicit racism is equally as harmful. I'm done.

The fight doesn't have to end this way. But changing the retreat-and-roll-over dynamic in Washington requires that popular sentiment in favor of immigrant rights be mobilized into actions and mass protests for justice that ups the stakes for all the politicians in Washington.

The message of the Women's Marches last weekend was that the bitter opposition to Donald Trump's presidency is more intense than ever--and millions of people want to do something about it.

We should be doing whatever we can to galvanize this sentiment into action--and exerting all the pressure we can to get unions and mainstream liberal organizations, which have the resources to make a difference right now, to mobilize in support of the rights of DREAMers and all immigrants.


THE IDEA that immigrants whose fate lies in the balance should take the word of Mitch McConnell seriously is a joke.

Just last month, the Senate majority leader got Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Jeff Flake to sign on to the Republican tax-cut bill by promising votes on modest health care and immigration measures that never materialized.

But the Democrats caved anyway. Angus King, an independent from Maine who votes with the Democrats, gave an indication of the pathetic nature of the bargaining when he explained that his side was pushing for a firmer commitment from McConnell to pass immigration legislation in February.

"Well," King said, "I think the first thing he needs to do is strengthen his statement from last night: 'I intend.' I would much rather he say, 'I commit' or 'I will move.'"

Even before the Democrats ended the shutdown by voting in favor of stopgap funding, the party's Senate leader Chuck Schumer had already shifted the debate to the right by offering increased funding for anti-immigration repression--including Trump's apartheid border wall--only to have Republicans reject it.

Now anti-immigration forces smell blood. In the next round of bargaining over the lives of immigrant youth, the GOP can be expected to push for even more items on their xenophobic wish list: reducing family-based immigration, ending the diversity visa program and the rest of their racist shithole agenda.

And if the reactionaries don't get what they want, there's the very real possibility that no deal will be reached, and DACA will expire--in spite of the fact that only a tiny hateful minority of the country wants to see that happen.


IT'S IMPORTANT to take a moment to spell out just what a disgustingly cynical game the Republicans have been playing.

When Trump ended DACA last September and then announced that he wanted Congress to make a deal for the affected young immigrants, he set in motion a plan pushed by his far-right wing adviser Stephen Miller to use DREAMers as hostages to demand concessions on anti-immigrant measures from Democrats.

At the time, Trump and other Republicans were full of sweet words, insisting that nobody wanted to see DREAMers get hurt.

Now, after months of letting young immigrants twist in the wind when they worked on handing out tax breaks and tearing up regulations for their corporate masters, Republicans are demonizing DREAMers--by blaming the shutdown on Democrats who prioritized "illegal immigrants" over their country.

To drive the point home--and demonstrate that they're just as willing to use all children as hostages, not just immigrants--Republicans put funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which they have been withholding for months, into the short-term spending bill, and then accused Democrats of putting immigrants ahead of native-born kids.

This cynical promotion of CHIP funding against DACA is the politics of anti-immigration in a nutshell: Pit different groups of people against each other both to scapegoat immigrants and justify cuts for everyone.

To hear many in Washington tell it, these maneuvers put Democrats in a tough position--especially the ones running for re-election this fall in areas won by Trump in 2016--that forced them to back down.

Which is, frankly, horseshit.

By an 8-1 margin, voters told a recent Quinnipiac poll that DREAMers should stay in the U.S. Nearly 80 percent of people--including a stunning 64 percent of Republicans--think they should be allowed to become citizens, while another 8 percent want to maintain the non-citizenship status quo of DACA.

But it's not just the "moderate" red-state Democrats who have been negotiating on right-wing terms. The party leadership of Schumer and Nancy Pelosi willingly offered limitless funding for "border security"--a bureaucratic euphemism that, in reality, means locking up children in cages and destroying water supplies so that migrants will die in the desert--not as reluctant concessions in exchange for the DREAM Act, but as positive measures on their own terms.

Pay attention to most Democrats' criticisms of Trump's wall, and you'll notice that their main complaint is not that the wall will stop immigrants--but that it won't.


THIS FIGHT can still be won, but it won't be if we wait for the Democrats to act.

It's time for the many thousands of people who may have been putting their hopes in Washington to step into action.

It's now clear that the Democrats either won't stand up for DACA at all--or they'll do so at an enormous cost to DREAMers' family members and millions of other immigrants, present and future.

Young immigrants are being held hostage by the racist right wing that controls the U.S. government. But rather than waging a fight, Democrats are pleading for a bipartisan compromise--while Republicans debate among themselves about whether to shoot the hostages or use them for even higher ransom.

We need to take this fight outside a political system that seems to amplify the voices of a hard-right minority while muffling the desires of the overwhelming majority. That means bringing many thousands of people into the streets, along with direct actions in the offices of the politicians in both parties.

Last weekend, we saw millions participate in the Women's Marches. Many marchers carried signs about immigrants and DACA, and the vast majority of them are clearly looking for ways to resist Trump.

Why have we yet to see large protests specifically in defense of immigrants? There are a few reasons.

Non-citizens themselves have justifiable fears about protesting given the Trump administration's record of targeting prominent immigrant activists--which makes it all the more important for everyone who supports immigrant rights to make themselves visible.

There's also a dynamic in which many liberal organizations look to immigrant groups--particularly those made up of DREAMers--to take the lead, but those groups are so stretched thin and under attack that they haven't had the confidence or resources to try to lead a broader movement.

But it's also clear that Democrats--and the unions and well-funded liberal organizations that work in lockstep with them--have not been very enthusiastic about giving DREAMers a platform. That's probably because while young immigrant activists are fighting every day to win a clean DREAM Act, they are unlikely to stick to the conservative narrative pushed by Schumer and Pelosi.

Most immigrant youth don't plead for sympathy because they came to this country "through no fault of their own." They know very well that their parents and families did nothing wrong in bringing them to the U.S. for the chance at a better life.

They won't praise the "border security" measures that made their journey to get here a living hell and that keep them separated from the rest of their families.

And they won't treat Trump's "shithole" comments as a mere distraction from reaching a bipartisan agreement, but as obvious evidence of the racist nature not only of the Republicans but the whole immigration system that already does favor migration from Norway over Haiti.


ONCE AGAIN this year, the Women's Marches were an inspiring show of potential, but now the urgency of the DACA fight means we have to confront the contradictions of having masses of people who are spoiling for a fight with Trump while the organizations they look to as their representatives want to stay on message with the Democrats.

These organizations need to be pressured to challenge the Democrats--and to call for wide-scale protests in defense of immigrants that put the voices of a diverse range of people front and center--even if that message contradicts the centrist aims of Democrats who hope to triumph in 2018 elections.

It's more obvious than ever that neither DREAMers nor immigrants of any age or status can afford to wait until after November.

This shouldn't mean sitting around to see if labor and organizations gets moving. We have to up the pressure in concrete terms by building organization and protests ourselves, wherever we can--on campus, in communities or at workplaces.

Already, several organizations in New York City have called a January 23 protest for Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, specifically targeting Chuck Schumer, under the slogan: Our lives are on the line, Chuck!

Republicans think they have a winning issue--not for the majority of the country, but to excite their hard-core base of 30 percent of the population.

If we get to work and engage with the desire of so many people to challenge the right, we can prove the Republicans wrong once again.

Recent articles

E-mail alerts

Further Reading

Today's Stories

From the archives