WASHINGTON ― Young undocumented immigrants watched on Monday as Senate Democrats did something many of them had promised not to: cast votes for government spending without securing protections for so-called Dreamers at risk of deportation.
Dreamer activists felt betrayed. Sitting in the gallery above the Senate floor, 33-year-old Karina Ruiz started to cry when she watched the first vote to end the government shutdown.
“I really [had] hopes and expectations that Democrats would hold the line for us, that they would hold their vote,” Ruiz, executive director of Arizona Dream Act Coalition and a mother of three, said afterwards. “We would send a message that this is urgent.”
For months, undocumented immigrants have urged Democrats to oppose government funding bills unless they did something to help Dreamers, about 700,000 of whom will lose deportation relief because President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Senate Democrats stood with Dreamers on Friday and voted against a four-week spending bill, but just days later on Monday they agreed to a three-week measure, insisting it wasn’t a cave because they had received a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that he would hold a vote on a DACA protection bill if one hadn’t passed by Feb. 8.
The deal wasn’t nothing. But it wasn’t what Dreamers asked for, or what Democrats promised. So on Monday, these undocumented immigrants were left in search of a way forward in a battle that has extended far longer than many had hoped, keeping them in Washington and away from family, school and work.
After Monday’s vote, more than 50 Dreamers gathered in a park across from the Capitol in a circle, some of them holding back tears and putting their arms around each another. Greisa Martinez Rosas, advocacy director for the Dreamer-led group United We Dream, asked them to raise a hand if they felt disappointed. Everyone did.
She then asked them to take a step forward for a series of prompts. They stepped toward the center when she asked if they believed in their hearts that they would win the fight for protections, and again when she said they would not allow politicians to lie to them, and again when she said they are worthy and loved. She asked them to send love to Republicans who oppose their cause and forgiveness to Democrats who lost their spine.
“We’re not done,” Martinez Rosas said before leading the group in a battle cry.
It was an especially difficult day for Antonio Jauregui, a 20-year-old college student who came to the U.S. when he was five, because it is the one-year anniversary of his grandfather’s death. He said he’d like to be at home with family in California to remember and honor his grandfather, but instead has been in Washington for weeks pleading with lawmakers to fight for him.
Jauregui had DACA protections but they expired in September and his renewal application was caught in postal delays. His application is now pending, but in the meantime, he is at risk, just like an estimated 122 other DACA recipients across the country who lose protections each day.
He was disappointed by Monday’s events and the fact that Democrats agreed to move forward on a short-term government funding bill based only on a promise for a future immigration vote.
“Promises aren’t going to protect our community,” Jauregui said. “Promises aren’t going to grant us a permanent solution. Promises aren’t going to do anything for the DACA recipients like myself who have already lost status. We were really counting on their actions.”
Isaias Guerrero, a 33-year-old who works with the Fair Immigration Reform Movement advocacy group, still has DACA protection for another 602 days. He knows because he has a countdown on his computer and has been watching the days tick down since Trump rescinded the program.
Guerrero was surprised at what happened on Monday.
“We’re just very hurt that we were betrayed once again, both I think by Democrats and by Republicans,” he said. “I thought that they actually were going to listen.”