In September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration would be rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—commonly known as DACA—which protected more than 800,000 undocumented young people from deportation. DACA recipients risk losing their legal immigration status as soon as March 5 if Congress lets DACA expire without taking action.
The federal government will also run out of money on January 20 unless Congress passes another short-term budget fix. On Wednesday, three former heads of the Department of Homeland Security wrote a letter to members of Congress, warning them that if they don’t find a fix for the DACA program by January 19, there will be a “large scale loss of work authorization and deportation protection.”
Democrats in Congress have reassured us they will jump into action and find a DACA fix soon, if we all just wait a little bit longer. In September, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer met with Donald Trump at the White House to hammer out a deal on DACA. In a shocking twist, Trump scuttled the deal. In December, Democratic leaders vowed to act again. “We will not leave [for the holidays] without a DACA fix,” Pelosi told reporters at the time. Spoiler alert: they left town without a DACA fix, instead telling America’s undocumented youth to wait until sometime in January to learn their fate. It is now January, and Democrats are already talking about kicking the can down the road once again.
Enough. Democrats: Your inaction has real-life consequences. While people—disproportionately young, undocumented Latinx men and women—have been putting their bodies on the line in order to save DACA, Democrats in Congress have sacrificed little of their own political capital. Pelosi, Schumer, and other Democratic leaders have shown they are more than happy to play the role of Charlie Brown running to kick Lucy’s football and acting shocked when it’s pulled away every time.
Undocumented men and women and boys and girls are risking more than anyone by speaking out against the Trump agenda. They stand to lose everything: their work, families, their entire lives in the U.S. Meanwhile, Democrats twiddle their thumbs. (There are exceptions, for example, Representatives Adriano Espaillat, Luis Gutiérrez, and Raúl Grijalva were arrested at a protest outside Trump Tower in September.)
Democrats: You have leverage. Now is the time to use it. If you don’t take this opportunity, you’ve all but ceded the game to Republicans.
It’s not an exaggeration to say the entire mission of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is to inflict pain on one of the most vulnerable populations living in the United States. ICE—along with Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice—is the tip of the spear in enforcing the Trump administration’s cruelest policies. On Tuesday, acting ICE director Thomas Homan told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto that “we’ve got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes” in retaliation for sanctuary cities.
Homeland Security and DOJ officials violate people’s Fourth Amendment rights. They separate children from their parents, and parents from their children. They believe they have the right to hold undocumented immigrants in detention cells indefinitely. They try to force young undocumented women to give birth against their will. They seemingly have no problem with potentially consigning a Mexican journalist to his death by deporting him. The list of grievances goes on and on.
It must be tempting for Democrats who worry about being portrayed as hypocritical. After all, wasn’t it Democrats who spent months decrying Republicans for playing a game of political chicken with the debt ceiling? Wouldn’t the media and voters rake them over the coals? I’m here to say: maybe! But at this point, what else do the Democrats have to lose? Seriously, ask yourself: What are those stakes compared to nearly a million young people who stand to lose the only lives they’ve ever known?
Yes, a government shutdown would have negative consequences. But unlike the Republicans’ boneheaded reasoning for forcing a government shutdown in 2013, passing a clean DACA bill is a policy objective of critical importance, not some arbitrary political line in the sand.
If shutting down the government in order to protect hundreds of thousands of young people living in the U.S. earns you a few negative headlines, so be it. Besides, if 2016 election taught us anything, it’s that voters don’t actually care about politicians being hypocritical so long as that hypocrisy is in service of voters’ best interests. The rules don’t matter anymore!!
It’s long past time for Democrats in Congress to abandon the old rules of political civility (rules that, as anyone who’s studied U.S. history knows, are mostly the stuff of fables). It’s long past time they start playing the game with the same ruthlessness and fuck-it mentality that Republicans have shown these past eight years. Just look how well it’s worked out for them! Honestly, what more do you have to lose?
Nearly 1 million lives hang in the balance. It’s time Democrats showed one-tenth of the political courage that young undocumented people all over the country have shown over the past year. Ask yourself: If you’re too afraid of the consequences to put your career on the line for these young people, do you have any place representing them in the first place?
It’s time for the Democrats to stop paying lip service to undocumented young people and start making life hard for Republicans in Congress. Demand a clean DACA bill or else shut down the government. It’s really that simple. As Adlai Stevenson once said, it’s time to nut up or shut up.