With time running down, DACA dream hangs on hope

January 24, 2018 GMT

WASHINGTON — Youthful immigrant DACA recipients might have seen Monday’s votes in Congress to reopen the government as a sign that their dream of continued legal status in the U.S. has a chance of coming true.

But the Dreamers themselves saw it as a missed opportunity — maybe even a harbinger of disruption and heartbreak. The clock continues to tick on the March 5 expiration of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order, which legalized Dreamers, at least temporarily.

“At the moment when Democrats had the most leverage, they backed down,” said Carolina Bortolleto, of Danbury, spokeswoman of Connecticut Students for a Dream, which represents many of the 8,000 or more young immigrants in the state brought to the U.S. illegally as children who gained legal status under DACA.

“All we have is a promise that (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell will allow (DACA extension) to be discussed,” she said. “Promises don’t protect us from deportation. We don’t want a promise, we want a solution.”

As part of negotiations leading up to the three-day government shutdown that ended Monday, Democrats including all of the Connecticut congressional delegation pushed for renewal of DACA — canceled last September by President Donald Trump as part of his campaign pledge to remove immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.

A majority of Senate Democrats voted for a deal reached by a bipartisan group of senators that reopened the government in exchange for McConnell’s statement that it is his “intention” to bring up a DACA bill by the next shutdown deadline, Feb 8.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut were among the 15 Democrats who, along and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, voted “no.” Blumenthal and Murphy insisted their votes were about a wide spectrum of issues.

But there was wide suspicion among Democrats and Dreamers that McConnell would not live up to his word — and that even if he did, the chances of pushing a DACA bill through the House and getting Trump’s signature on it are remote.

“Promises won’t protect us from deportation,” said Connecticut Students for a Dream executive director Lucas Codognolla of Bridgeport. “We will keep fighting for the Dream Act because our lives and the moral center of this country are at stake.”

The nation’s 700,000 or more Dreamers, so called because of the never-passed DREAM Act that would have given them permanent legal status, became a cause celebre for Democrats, especially after Trump revoked then President Obama’s DACA order.

Republicans including Trump himself have made positive statements about Dreamers, many of whom have no memories of the homelands to which they would be deported. But aligned against sympathy for Dreamers is the antipathy of hard-right conservatives who see favorable treatment for DACA recipients as amnesty for illegal aliens.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he believed there were 60 votes in the Senate to approve a DACA-extension bill if McConnell were to put it on the floor. But what happens in the House by Feb. 8 is anyone’s guess.

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., who also voted “no” when the Senate-passed resolution came before the House late Monday, noted that lawmakers have only four legislative working days in Washington before Feb. 8.

But even though hard-right Freedom Caucus members in the House will oppose any DACA solution that emanates from the Senate, Esty said enough moderate Republican and Democratic votes may exist to move such a bill through the House.

“Yes, it will be hard,” Esty said. “But I do think it’s possible.”