The DREAMers are in big trouble now
The government shutdown has come to an end. And the real lesson here, the one Democrats should take into any further negotiations, is this: If Republicans sound like they're agreeing with you about immigration, don't believe a word they say.
That became apparent over the last week or so as the disagreement over the budget led to the brief shutdown. Democrats in the Senate withheld their votes from bills to keep the government open, demanding that Republicans include a provision extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which would allow young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children (the "DREAMers") to remain in the U.S. When it became clear they weren't going to get what they wanted, they made a deal with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying they'd vote to keep the government open if McConnell would allow a separate vote on DACA later on.
If you're naïve enough to take what Republicans say at face value, you might not see that as a problem. The continuing resolution passed on Monday will fund the government through Feb. 8, and McConnell has pledged to put the DACA fix up for a vote before then. And Republicans have said all along that they want to protect the DREAMers. In polls, over 80 percent of Americans agree, including most Republicans. The idea of deporting young people who were brought to America as children, have done everything right to become productive citizens, and have known no other home but this one strikes the vast majority of Americans as abhorrent.
But the unfortunate news is that the DREAMers are in big trouble, because their fate now rests with the Republican Party.
Let's not forget that they're in the position they are now because President Trump canceled the DACA program last year. Yet when he talks about the DREAMers, glimmers of humanity can be briefly seen — until the hard-liners on his staff get a hold of him. As The New York Times reported this week, "When President Trump mused last year about protecting immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, calling them 'these incredible kids,' aides implored him privately to stop talking about them so sympathetically." We saw a pattern repeat during these negotiations: Trump would make those sympathetic noises (he said two weeks ago that he wanted "a bipartisan bill of love"), Democrats would talk to him and think they had his agreement to protect the DREAMers, then when they left, staffers like Stephen Miller and John Kelly would play on the president's nativist impulses (of which there are plenty), and before you knew it, he had changed his mind and any deal was dead.
If Republicans really wanted to protect the DREAMers as they claim, they would have eagerly accepted the deal that Democrats were offering: open the government, fix DACA, and provide money for Trump's border wall. The fact that they turned the deal down proves they didn't actually want to protect the DREAMers. There's no other explanation.
Now, Senate Democrats are getting hammered by understandably livid liberals and immigrant advocates. But they probably felt they would have to cave in eventually, since Republicans aren't particularly bothered by the government ceasing to operate, and the political heat they felt wasn't powerful enough to force them to accept a permanent solution for the DREAMers.
So what do Democrats get now? They get a Senate vote on DACA, which will likely succeed. Then the bill will go to the House, where it will probably die.
I say that because we've been through this once before. In 2013, the "Gang of Eight," a bipartisan group of senators, came up with a comprehensive immigration reform bill that among other things provided for increased border security and path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It passed the Senate by a vote of 68-32, with 14 Republicans joining all the Democrats in favor. Everyone celebrated.
Then it was sent over to the Republican-controlled House, which said, "Eh, no thanks," and killed it. And today's Republican Party is even more anti-immigrant than it was then.
The failure of that bill was a bracing experience for many elected Republicans, showing them that the long-term interests of their party in reaching out to Latinos are dwarfed by the antipathy their base voters have toward immigrants. Then in 2016, they watched as that base elected a man who began his campaign by saying Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists; said the judge in his fraud case couldn't be impartial because "he's a Mexican" (fact check: the judge is American); promised to build a wall on the southern border; told lurid, misleading stories about undocumented immigrants committing crimes; and generally ran the most nakedly racist campaign of white nationalism anyone alive today had ever seen.
Whether elected Republicans believe the anti-immigrant sentiments they so often express is beside the point. They live in a permanent state of terror, convinced that a wrong step — for instance, acting like you're in possession of empathy for non-white people — could bring their base's wrath down upon them.
So what happens in the House? The question is whether Speaker Paul Ryan would be willing to take whatever the Senate passes and bring it up for a vote. If he did, it would likely pass, since the Democrats would all vote for it, and it would only need two dozen Republicans to go along. But back in 2015, Ryan promised the ultra-right Freedom Caucus that once he became speaker he'd adhere to the "Hastert rule," named for the former speaker and pedophile Dennis Hastert, on all immigration bills. It says that only bills that have the support of "a majority of the majority," i.e. a majority of Republicans, will be put up for a vote.
If that's the position Ryan takes, we could be doing this all over again in three weeks. Republicans will say they really do want to protect the DREAMers, but not enough to actually protect them. Democrats will have no leverage other than forcing another shutdown. However it ends, it won't be good.