I spent more than a decade of my life as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. In 2010, I would have benefited from the Dream Act bill that ultimately failed to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to pass through the Senate.
I remember the disappointment and helplessness I felt when the Dream Act failed to pass, and even though I was eventually able to adjust my status through marriage, most of the DREAMers that I met back then still don’t have permanent status. Many found relief with the Obama-era executive action called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which gave temporary legal status to more than 800,000 undocumented youth who grew up in the United States. But in late 2017, Donald Trump eliminated DACA, leaving DREAMers uncertain and anxious that they will be deported from the only home they know.
It seems fitting in the mess over immigration that Trump has created, that we marked the one-year anniversary of his inauguration this past weekend with a shutdown of the federal government. It seems an appropriate way to cap off a disastrous year for Trump, whose only major legislative achievement was a deeply unpopular tax reform bill that serves to give to the rich by stealing from the poor.
Now, after a federal shutdown, DREAMers are still in limbo.
The Senate voted on Monday to end a two-day shutdown on a compromise that hinges on the word of GOP lawmakers who’ve made similar empty promises in the past to find a solution for undocumented youth with no results.
How did we get here?
For starters, we have a racist president who wants to codify his racism and make white supremacy the law of the land. His efforts —from building a wall with Mexico to the Muslim ban to ramping up a deportation agenda— are all meant to rid this country of people of color. Trump and his white nationalist staff are attacking people of color as a condition of an immigration agreement with Congress to fix what he broke. White supremacists in Trump’s administration, such as Stephen Miller, introduced a series of poison pills during the negotiations. The end of family reunification, slashing of the visa lottery, and increased interior border enforcement were part of the demands that ensured a government shutdown all but inevitable.
Secondly, we have the spineless Republicans, not only unwilling to stand up to this blatant racism from the White House, but who have accommodated it.
Last week, Senate Democrats stood with immigrants and people of color against Trump and his GOP enablers. Americans want a bipartisan solution for undocumented immigrants. The Dream Act is astronomically popular, with recent polls showing that up to 83 percent of Americans favor allowing Dreamers to stay in the country.
But I’m infuriated by today’s deal. Democrats cravenly backed down in exchange for more delay and an uncertain promise of future action. Immigrants in America need lawmakers with a backbone who respect human decency.
As I watch the shutdown drama play out in Congress, I can’t help but think of how absurd it is that back in 2010 I watched with anticipation and hope as lawmakers debated the Dream Act, only to come up short and leave me and others in limbo, with no work permits or protection from deportation. Eight years later, it’s hard to believe that we are still fighting the same battle, except the political discourse has gotten meaner.
Congress needs to return to common sense. Lawmakers need to come up with a bipartisan compromise that does not include punitive measures to immigrant communities and needless costs to taxpayers.
Thomas Kennedy is an activist and communications fellow with the Center for Community Change. He tweets from @Tomaskenn.