Thank the Virgin of Guadalupe and Queztalcoatl that undocumented youth protested House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Monday.
Right after Labor Day, President Papa Don announced that within six months he would end Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to protect so-called “DREAMers,” undocumented people born elsewhere and brought here as children.
Immigrant rights groups immediately called for Congress to pass a “clean DREAM Act” — to change DACA from executive action into law by passing the DREAM Act to give citizenship to 800,000 young people brought by their parents, without other policies beloved by the right like increased enforcement and a border wall. Activists planned to pressure Democrats and Republicans alike for six months.
The immigrant movement’s strategy was reasonable because DACA is quite popular. But as my friend Johan Miranda, the undocumented comedian, tweeted: “DACA has a 76% approval rating, which means Democrats will get behind a more moderate version of it and lose.”
The week after Papa Don’s announcement to end DACA and deport young people who grew up in the United States, news broke that Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had “made a deal” with Trump to pass the DREAM Act — and other unknown “tweaks” to enforcement.
An anxiety in the undocumented movement was the narrative around policy. If there can be legal status for 800,000 dreamers, there should be. The DREAM Act debate revives tropes of deserving and undeserving migrants. The dreamers are innocent, otherwise good American kids, brought here by their parents. Unlike their wretched, cheating, lawless parents who risked life and limb for a better life for their families.
The DREAM Act shouldn’t be the end of the story, in which the U.S. saves children and deports or jails parents. God willing, it’s a slippery slope toward naturalization for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Pelosi and Schumer rushed to a deal with Trump, before pressure built on Congress for a standalone DREAM vote. People worried they would claim they had no choice but to cave on enforcement to protect kids. As usual, Democrats can be depended upon to squander what leverage they have and capitulate prematurely. Politics is the art of the possible, but organizing is the art of making the impossible possible.
Pelosi and Schumer started talking to Trumpelstiltskin without talking to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which is normally consulted on such matters, or any affected undocumented people. They avoided advocates of the clean DREAM strategy. By rushing without a fight, by limiting who was in the room when it happened, Pelosi and Schumer ensured that the possible in politics is art painted on the tiniest canvas.
When the young people confronted Pelosi on Monday at her staged event, they were criticized widely — including in Matier and Ross — for disrespecting her long support of immigrants and for protesting the wrong target when they should be hounding Republicans.
Don’t worry: They will hound Republicans. They’ve done that quite well. The immigrant movement ran Joe Arpaio out of Phoenix.
They protest Democrats because Democrats need to be protested; otherwise, they throw immigrants under the bus. Democrats have a slightly less bad record on immigrant rights. Obama deported more people than George W Bush. Obama’s 2016 executive action to phase out private prisons allowed their continued use for immigration. Bill Clinton’s immigration policies were worse.
The DREAM Act died in 2010, when five Democratic senators voted against it with Republicans. Obama finally created DACA when Dreamers argued first he could do it through executive action and took increasingly bold direct actions to demand he do so.
To be sure, Republicans are worse, but immigrants know that Democrats will count on the Latino vote while bargaining with their lives unless they are interrupted and shouted at regularly. Sure enough, the next day, Pelosi committed to a clean DREAM vote and retreated from giving away the store to Trump. Keep getting the job done, protesters.
Nato Green is a San Francisco-based comedian, activist and blowhard @natogreen. See him live for Riffer’s Delight at the Alamo Drafthouse on Monday, Oct. 2, where he and Natasha Muse will interrupt “Indecent Proposal.”