On Monday night, Reyna Montoya was back in her home state of Arizona. The 26-year-old immigrant-rights activist, whose DACA status expires in October, had spent much of fall and the new year shuttling back and forth from Phoenix to Washington, DC, to lobby for a deal for 700,000 other young immigrants like herself. She’d been in DC every day that Congress had been in session since November 27.
After the announcement that Democrats had agreed to a shutdown deal that would fund six years of funding for the Child Health Insurance Program but postpone any agreement on immigration, Montoya expressed frustration: “It’s disappointing to see that minority leader Schumer would believe McConnell. We’ve been here before.”
Montoya pointed to just last month, when McConnell promised Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) that he’d bring a vote on immigration to the table come January: “And now we’re extending till February? I’m definitely feeling anger. Democrats are not good at negotiating, and the fact is, right now they’re walking away with nothing.”
Indeed, Democrats agreed to support a stopgap spending bill that will fund the government through February 8 after receiving a promise from McConnell similar to one he made to Flake. In a statement delivered on the Senate floor, McConnell said he had the “intention” to raise the issue of how to provide undocumented young people long-term protection after President Donald Trump revoked DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, last fall.
But these sorts of promises are flimsy, especially against the historical record. For all the bipartisan support that the federal Dream Act has enjoyed in its 17-year history, Republicans—and, it should be noted, a number of Democrats—have repeatedly quashed the bill. The Dream Act would grant some undocumented young people who’ve lived in the United States for years and cleared a host of hurdles an opportunity to qualify for citizenship. The closest the standalone bill came to passage was in late 2010, when, after passing through the House, it failed to clear a cloture vote in the Senate by just five votes.
President Barack Obama announced DACA in 2012, after comprehensive immigration reform stalled. (While many people refer to DACA young people as Dreamers, those who receive DACA protections constitute a smaller subset of those who would qualify for the Dream Act.) Then, in 2013, a version of the Dream Act was tucked into the comprehensive immigration-reform bill that cleared the Senate but died in the House.
Since then, the Republican Party has been taken over by hardline immigration restrictionists, and Trump himself became president by calling for a border wall. Last week Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA), who advocate for harsh penalties for undocumented immigrants and a drastic cut to even legal immigration, helped quash any hope of a DACA deal that didn’t also include stiffer immigration enforcement.