Copyright 2018  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.
  • Feb. 15, 2018 - DREAMers reject Trump's four pillars in visits to Senate offices.

  • Feb. 14, 2018 - DREAMers deliver Valentine cards to Senate offices.

  • Feb. 12, 2018 - Debate begins in the U.S. Senate.

  • Feb. 7, 2018 - Progressive groups hold "National Day of Action for the Dream Act."

    Feb. 6, 2018 - Catholic groups stage event at the Capitol in support of DREAMers.

    Jan. 19, 2018 - Undocumented youth protest in front of RNC headquarters.

The Fight for a Clean DREAM Act Hits a Wall

(Feb. 2018, updated June 2018) On Sept. 5, 2017 the Trump Administration announced its decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months, while calling on Congress to act (1, 2, 3, 4).  DACA, initiated by the Obama Administration on June 15, 2012 after continued congressional inaction, was a temporary fix that allowed almost 800,000 young people brought to the United States unlawfully to remain and work here without fear of deportation.  The Trump Administration's action created a sense of urgency leading up to Mar. 5, 2018.  One hundred and twenty two people were losing their status each day.

DREAMERs pressed hard for action in the form of a "clean Dream Act," meaning legislation unconnected to other immigration-related issues such as border security.  Their campaign proved to be one of the most determined grassroots efforts seen in Washington in recent decades.  Activists engaged in countless demonstrations, events and actions large and small on Capitol Hill and around the country.  At the forefront of the action in Washington, DC were United We Dream and CASA in Action.  Activists from United We Dream, "the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country," became a familiar presence in their orange T-shirts and caps.  CASA in Action is "the largest electoral organization fighting for immigrant rights in the Mid-Atlantic region."  Many other immigrant rights and progressive groups were also involved.

The initial push aimed to achieve a fix before the end of 2017, seeking to tie a DACA fix to the short-term continuing resolution to fund the government.  However, Congress left town for the Christmas break without acting.  Debate intensified in January.  On Jan. 9 Trump convened a high-profile meeting with members of Congress to discuss immigration.  During the meeting he called for "a bill of love" but also "a bill where were able to secure our border" (+).  White House press secretary Sarah Sanders summarized the meeting by saying four issues were under discussion: border security, chain migration, visa lottery, and DACA.  Coincidentally, late evening on Jan. 9 another major development occurred: a federal judge ruled that issued a nationwide injunction against the administration's termination of DACA; this allowed applications for DACA renewals to again be accepted (+). 

Despite the promising meeting of Jan. 9, negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders were bumpy.  In a Jan. 11 Oval Office meeting on immigration, Trump ignited yet another controversy by reportedly using racist and offensive language (+).  Urged on by activists, Senate Democrats sought to tie immigration to yet another continuing resolution to fund the government.  At one point Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) observed, "Negotiating with this White House is like negotiating with Jello.  It's next to impossible."  After a three-day government shutdown, Democrats backed down. 

On Jan. 25, the administration announced a legislative framework which included a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and DACA eligible people, but also emphasized border security, established limits on family reunification and ended the visa lottery.  The proposal met with generally unfavorable reactions (+). 

On Feb. 7 congressional leaders announced they had reached a bipartisan budget agreement, but, to the dismay of DREAMers, DACA still was not addressed.  On the plus side for DREAMers, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to an open debate on immigration.  However, Speaker Paul Ryan did not go as far, prompting House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to take to the House floor and make a "prayerful human plea to the Speaker."  Pelosi spoke for more than eight hours, a record in the House.  "Give us a vote; what are you afraid of?" she asked Ryan.

Debate in the Senate started on Feb. 12.  The two sides appeared very far apart, with Democrats favoring a narrow fix and conservative Republicans advocating legislation similar to Trump's framework.  There was also some talk of a short-term measure to protect the DREAMers if a deal could not be reached.  (Of note, on Feb. 13 a second federal judge issued an injuction preventing the administration from terminating DACA >).  On the afternoon of Feb. 15 the Senate voted on four different immigration proposals; each fell short of the requisite 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster (+).  The next week Congress was in recess for President's Day and that was the end of it. 

The House did vote on a couple of immigration measures in late June, but both failed.