They ride the L to school. They stock the shelves at the grocery store. They serve in the military.
If there is anybody who deserves a better break as our nation closes out a mean year, it is some 700,000 law-abiding young men and women who were brought to our country illegally years ago as small children, the so-called “Dreamers.” The United States is the only home they have ever known. It would be unconscionable to deport them.
Now, finally, advocates for the Dreamers have a rare and real opportunity to protect them from future deportation, and even to provide them with a clear path to citizenship within as little as five years.
But if it’s going to happen, Democrats will have to hang tough.
Congress is hashing out a spending plan for the rest of the fiscal year — or, at minimum, through January — and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate can’t do it alone. They will need Democratic votes to pass a spending bill and extend the nation’s debt ceiling. If they fail to do so, they face a politically disastrous government shutdown.
In the Senate, it takes 60 votes to pass spending bills, but there are only 51 Republican members, and some are ideologues who will never vote to raise the debt ceiling.
Democrats, for once, have leverage. They can use it, before all else, to demand justice for Dreamers.
In 2012, President Barack Obama issued an executive order protecting from deportation undocumented men and women who had entered the country as minors. Under his administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, these young people could receive renewable two-year periods of protection from deportation and become eligible for work permits if they passed background checks.
But in September of this year, President Donald Trump indicated he would phase out DACA over six months, and he left it to Congress to pass legislation that might offer Dreamers similar protections. Congress, to nobody’s surprise, has done nothing.
If Democrats don’t demand action for Dreamers now, they will have missed their best shot. Republicans know they must pass a spending bill or risk a government shutdown for which they are sure to be blamed. If national parks are forced to close or Social Security checks are delayed, it will not go unnoticed by angry voters that the GOP controls the Senate, the House and the White House.
Democrats have proposed a bill that makes DACA enrollees documented permanent residents and allows them to apply for citizenship in five years. Republicans want to push the wait time to 10 years or even 15. They also think they should get something more in return, such as funding for Trump’s goofy “wall.”
Three out of every four Americans, polls show, favor giving Dreamers protections from deportation and offering them a path to citizenship. The GOP would be foolish, as they go into next year’s elections, to risk a government shutdown just to say no to such a widely supported humanitarian reform.
Time is running out. Some 700,000 Dreamers face the risk of deportation beginning in March.
Who will stand tough for them now?
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