Compromise or cave-in? Democrats' deal to end shutdown sows division

Senate Democrats on Monday compromised on a short-term spending measure to re-open the the federal government after forcing a shutdown over an impasse on immigration.

But some progressives and immigration activists preferred another word: caved.

Three days after Democrats rejected a stop-gap bill because it did not include protections for Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants shielded by an Obama-era program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or Daca, they yielded, ending the first government shutdown in a half decade.

In a 81-18 vote on Monday, Democrats approved a three-week spending measure in exchange for a commitment from Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who pledged to bring up legislation that would extend protections to Dreamers, whose status was thrown into chaos when Trump cancelled Daca in September.

Who are the Dreamers?

Dreamers are young immigrants who would qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (Daca) program, enacted under Barack Obama in 2012. Most people in the program entered the US as children and have lived in the US for years “undocumented”. Daca gave them temporary protection from deportation and work permits. Daca was only available to people younger than 31 on 15 June 2012, who arrived in the US before turning 16 and lived there continuously since June 2007. Most Dreamers are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and the largest numbers live in California, Texas, Florida and New York. Donald Trump cancelled the program in September but has also said repeatedly he wants Congress to develop a program to “help” the population.

What will happen to the Dreamers?

Under the Trump administration, new applications under Daca will no longer be accepted. For those currently in the program, their legal status and other Daca-related permits (such as to work and attend college) will begin expiring in March 2018 – unless Congress passes legislation allowing a new channel for temporary or permanent legal immigration status – and Dreamers will all lose their status by March 2020.

Technically, as their statuses lapse they could be deported and sent back to countries many have no familiarity with. It is still unclear whether this would happen. Fear had been rising in the run-up to last week’s announcement. Those with work permits expiring between 5 September 2017 and 5 March 2018 will be allowed to apply for renewal by 5 October.

What does the recent ruling by Judge William Alsup mean?

In his ruling, Alsup ordered the Trump administration to restart the program, allowing Daca recipients who already qualify for the program to submit applications for renewal.

However, he said the federal government did not have to process new applications from people who had not previously received protection under the program.

When the Trump administration ended the Daca program, it allowed Daca recipients whose legal status expired on or before 5 March to renew their legal status. Roughly 22,000 recipients failed to successfully renew their legal status for various reasons.

Legal experts and immigration advocates are advising Daca recipients not to file for renewal until the administration provides more information about how it intends to comply with the ruling.

“These next days and weeks are going to create a lot of confusion on the legal front,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which has filed a separate lawsuit against the Trump administration’s termination of Daca.

The House passed the bill later on Monday, in a vote largely along party lines.

Dick Durbin, the No 2 Democrat in the Senate and one of the leading congressional advocates for Dreamers, saw the silver linings of the deal.

“Parts of this were a victory in terms of moving to immigration for the first time in five years, with a deadline, with an understood procedure with the other side acknowledging this is about Daca,” Durbin said. “They started using that word. Leader McConnell started using it today. It isn’t where I wanted to be today but I think we are closer to our goal than we’ve ever been.”

Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice-president, echoed this. “The commitment we made today is we’re going forward [on immigration] whether or not the president wants us to.”

Yet other Democrats were skeptical of leaving the fate of Dreamers in the hands of the Senate majority leader, who they do not trust, and the president, who has proved to be an unpredictable negotiator.

“I don’t believe he made any commitment whatsoever,” Kamala Harris, a senator from California who opposed the bill, said after the Senate advanced the measure. “And I think it would be foolhardy to believe that he made a commitment.”

Harris was among several progressive lawmakers and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates who rejected the bill, including senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Democrats went into the weekend confident that voters were on their side. Public polling indicated that Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress and the White House, would be held responsible.

But Trump and Republicans spent the days since the shut down attacking Democrats for prioritizing undocumented immigrants over members of the military.

“I think if we’ve learned anything during this process, it’s that a strategy to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration is something the American people didn’t understand and would not have understood in the future,” McConnell said in remarks on the floor on Monday.

In contrast to the 2013 government shutdown, when conservative Republicans threatened to close the government over Obamacare, Democrats did achieve some successes. They had long pushed for re-authorization of the children’s health insurance program (Chip) and the concession by McConnell for a floor vote on immigration could spur action on immigration while shifting the onus back on to Republicans.

This, however, didn’t not satisfy many in the party’s activist base, who accused lawmakers of betrayal.

“Last week, I was moved to tears of joy when Democrats stood up and fought for progressive values and for Dreamers,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a national immigration advocacy group. “Today, I am moved to tears of disappointment and anger that Democrats blinked.”

What is a government shutdown?

When the US Congress fails to pass appropriate funding for government operations and agencies, a shutdown is triggered. Most government services are frozen, barring those that are deemed “essential”, such as the work of the Department of Homeland Security and FBI. During a shutdown, nearly 40% of the government workforce is placed on unpaid furlough and told not to work. Many, but not all, are non-defense federal employees. Active duty military personnel are not furloughed.

Why did the government shut down?

Members of Congress are at an impasse over what should be included in a spending bill to keep the government open. Democrats have insisted any compromise must also include protections for the nearly 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, who were brought to the US as children.

The Dreamers, who were granted temporary legal status under Barack Obama, were newly exposed to the threat of deportation when Donald Trump moved to rescind their protections in September.

Trump and Republicans have argued immigration is a separate issue and can be dealt with at a later time.

How common is a shutdown?

There have been 12 government shutdowns in the US since 1981, although ranging in duration. The longest occurred under Bill Clinton, lasting a total of 21 days from December 1995 to January 1996, when the then House speaker, Newt Gingrich, demanded sharp cuts to government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and welfare.

The most recent shutdown transpired under Obama in 2013, pitting the president against the Republican-led House of Representatives. Republicans refused to support a spending bill that included funding for Obama’s healthcare law, resulting in a 16-day shutdown that at its peak affected 850,000 federal employees.

What would be the cost of a shutdown?

A government shutdown would cost the US roughly $6.5bn a week, according to a report by S&P Global analysts. “A disruption in government spending means no government paychecks to spend; lost business and revenue to private contractors; lost sales at retail shops, particularly those that circle now-closed national parks; and less tax revenue for Uncle Sam,” the report stated. “That means less economic activity and fewer jobs.”

Nearly 1 million people would not receive regular paychecks in the event of a shutdown. In previous shutdowns, furloughed employees have been paid retrospectively – but those payments have often been delayed.

Sabrina Siddiqui

The drawdown was particularly glaring in the aftermath of the Women’s March, which saws tens of thousands of activists in cities across the country protest Trump and congressional Republicans. Many of the women carried signs in support of the Dream Act, legislative fix for the young immigrants.

“Millions of people flooded the streets of every major American city to stand up to Trump this weekend,” said Leah Greenberg, the co-executive director of Indivisible, an influential activists network. “Your constituents want you to fight. How can you possibly not understand that?”

Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of the progressive organization, Democracy for America, said Democrats “stunning display of moral and political cowardice” jeopardizes the party’s chances of reclaiming the House majority in 2018.

Progressives and immigrant advocates are doubtful the House will take up the measure to offer legal status to undocumented immigrants. House speaker Paul Ryan has not agreed to bring an immigration bill up for a votes. Further, Republicans aren’t sure what Trump wants on immigration.

“If Trump can be compelled to do something other than cower in fear, he could flip the House in an instant,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director at MoveOn.org. “Short of that it takes a tsunami of grassroots pressure to make Republicans who say they support Dreamers actually use the power they hold.”

Earlier this month, Trump called for a bipartisan “bill of love” that would protect Dreamers and also provide funding for a wall along the southern border. During the same meeting, he embraced comprehensive immigration reform and promised to shield Republicans from the political blowback if they struck a deal. But in the intervening weeks, he has walked back from accepting a deal.

Some Republicans have insisted they should only consider legislation with the White House’s seal of approval. “We should not spend our time on passing a bill that the president wouldn’t sign,” said Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who is the chair of the Senate judiciary committee.

Not all progressive organizations heaped blame on Democrats.

“It’s remarkable that Republicans cannot keep a Republican-run government open,” said Jesse Lehrich of Organizing for America.

“Now, we all must ensure Mitch McConnell keeps his word.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Lauren Gambino and Ben Jacobs in Washington, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 23rd January 2018 00.54 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010