Dreams in limbo



How to sort out this tangled mess over innocents? Hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the USA by their parents see their futures hang in the balance over the next weeks or, more likely, months or maybe even years, as Congress tries to craft a bill to fund the government and allow the so-called “Dreamers” to stay in the country. The deadline is Jan. 19. That’s the first deadline. Democrats are tying the Dreamer fix to the budget to force quick action at the urging of Latino advocates. They risk a government shutdown over it, which could destroy their chances in the mid-term elections this year. The second deadline is in March, when President Trump declared, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by President Obama under executive order will end. That’s the real deadline. The Jan. 19 deadline is arbitrary.

Polls show that over 70% of Americans favor letting the Dreamers stay. This puts a lot of pressure on Republicans to get something done by March. Their electoral prospects are not looking good. Do they really want to energize the Latino vote? Even the anti-immigrant groups are caving in. They know the optics would be awful of shipping out bright young people to countries they never knew. They need Democrats to get this thing done and they know it.

Democrats should have nothing to do with the discussions. This is a problem that the far-right cooked up to control Congress. We have been talking about immigration reform for many years but nothing gets done primarily because of a band of about 30 conservatives in the House called the Freedom Caucus. Their main spokesman, Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, said that there should be no deal over DACA. Making a deal will undermine the rule of law. King is standing pat. He has done so before. It drove John Boehner out of the House speakership.

President Trump also is making demands on the Democrats that they cannot and should not accede to: an $18 billion border wall, for starters, and an end to “chain migration” that allows families to reunite in the United States. Those are non-starters in negotiations, and Trump declares that these two points are non-negotiable.

Given rational players, you could not see how this ends up with anything constructive. But of course rational is not the operative word when it comes to immigration politics.

One would think, for example, that if Trump wants to strike a deal he would not have announced on Monday that he is revoking refugee status for 260,000 Salvadorans living in the USA following devastating earthquakes 20 years ago. Trump determined that El Salvador had been sufficiently rebuilt so those people now must go home — where they have no home or job or even other family anymore. The same goes for refugees from Haiti and Sudan. How are Democrats supposed to negotiate with an administration that obviously just doesn’t care and cannot send a straight signal? One week Trump says no harm will come to the Dreamers, the next he throws the DACA program out the window.

And, if you let the Dreamers stay then what of their families?

It’s why we never liked it in the first place. Not because it undermines the rule of law, but because it puts a stamp on someone’s forehead that says, “Come and deport me” so long as it is temporary. If the Republicans want to force these industrious, educated young people underground, let them try. Many Republican leaders, including Sen. Ted Cruz, believe that the Dreamers must be deported. Let’s have that vote: this November when we all get to weigh in.

We have a bad feeling that this issue will not get settled by Jan. 19. The Democrats should not shut down the government over it. Let the arbitrary deadline pass. Let them dig the hole deeper. Let March creep up and the urgency build. Call Trump’s bluff. Make no deals. Force Trump to act. Force votes in Congress. Yes, some people will get hurt. But many more will get hurt if Democrats continue to dither against the malicious fortitude of Trump and King. Win the next election to force Trump’s hand. These are games being played with people’s lives. That cannot be negotiated. It must be defeated. This has gone on long enough. The way you change it is by winning elections, not cutting deals with the devil.