The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats take heat from the left over shutdown-ending deal that didn’t address DACA

Demonstrators gather Monday in Anaheim, Calif., to encourage the Senate to make protections for “dreamers” a part of the spending bill. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Astrid Silva learned that the government shutdown was over while she was at work, translating for a fellow immigrant involved in a legal wrangle in Las Vegas. When she learned how the fight had ended — with a deal not to pass the Dream Act, but to put it on the Senate’s February agenda — Silva got deja vu.

“It’s the same frustration I’ve had for years — it just keeps happening,” said Silva, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) who has worked with Democrats for years to push legal status for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. “I can recall in 2013 sitting there in the gallery, seeing the Senate vote for the immigration bill, and then waiting and waiting for Speaker Boehner to pick it up. That’s what these Republican promises are worth.”

Reached Monday, many DACA recipients reacted the same way as Silva. The government shutdown began with “dreamers” and their allies on the left praising Democrats for their courage. At Women’s March events Saturday and Sunday, protesters declared solidarity with “dreamers”; on the less-demanding activist turf of Twitter, they largely kept the #TrumpShutdown hashtag trending over the various Republican branding attempts.

And then, Democrats voted to open the government again. Erika Castro, a DACA recipient who founded Dream Big Vegas to advocate for fellow dreamers in Nevada, said that the deal amounted to senators “putting our lives on hold.”

“It feels like something they’ve been kicking further down the road,” she said. “To keep pushing and keep pushing and say we’re going to get it next month — that’s unacceptable at this point. Whether it’s one week or two weeks or three weeks, it’s asking a lot when we’ve been waiting for 17 years.”

Democrats were ready for the backlash — although not every backlash is created equal. The reactions from the party’s base to the shutdown deal ranged from primal screams to gritted teeth. The party got more than Republicans did after their 2013 shutdown fight, an epic battle demanded by the GOP base and by conservative think tanks that ended with no concessions on then-President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

But there was more than enough anger to generate stories of the party in its usual state of disarray. And by the end of Monday, some of the groups that had condemned Democrats’ weakness were devising strategies to pressure them ahead of the new Feb. 8 deadline.

Inside the Senate, Democrats cared more about the reactions of dreamers themselves than of progressive groups that have allied with dreamers. In December, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and his Democrats opted against forcing a shutdown fight over DACA. Some groups quietly stood by that decision, seeing a better opportunity for a fight in January; some condemned it. Democrats, generally, have come to believe that the first set of groups are allies, while the second set have been opportunistic.

The latter group got the most attention Monday. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee said in a statement that deals such as Monday’s were “why people don’t believe Democrats stand for anything.” CREDO Action declared that “Chuck Schumer has failed dreamers and let the entire Democratic Party down.”

Justice Democrats, a group created in 2017 to wage primary battles against “corporate Democrats,” declared that “Schumer is turning off the volunteers and organizers who will knock on doors, donate, and call voters in 2018.” And Erika Andiola, a veteran of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign who had been organizing dreamer protests, said on Twitter that it had felt “like Democrats were finally listening to our pain and doing something about it,” only to disappoint again.

“You win by standing up FOR something,” Andiola wrote, chastising the Senate Democrats. “After this please never ask me why I don’t trust them. No spine to stand up to racism in the GOP.”

Senate Democrats are skeptical that these jabs mean long-term damage to the party. The progressive movement’s most pugnacious groups have swung and missed before; in Virginia, infamously, the Howard Dean-founded group Democracy for America denounced now-Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) for a “racist” statement that he would oppose sanctuary status if any of the state’s cities tried to implement it. Latino turnout surged regardless, powering Northam to a nine-point victory and sweeping 14 new Democratic legislators into the state’s House of Delegates.

Still, the reactions were nearly unanimous — even organizations seen to be relevant in Democratic politics took hard swipes at the deal. The Working Families Party, a grass-roots group that has been building chapters in several 2018 battlegrounds, said in a statement that Democrats would make it harder to get out their votes.

“Some Democratic Senators are worried that Trump will attack them over shutting down the government for the sake of protecting immigrants,” Dan Cantor, the national chairman of WFP, said. “The truth is, Trump will attack them no matter what. What the Democrats ought to be focused on instead is keeping their progressive base and the broad public fired up against Trump and Trumpism.”

The Indivisible Project, a network of local grass-roots organizations that has become one of the most powerful forces on the left, was just as outraged. “They caved in early December, but promised to use their leverage by the end of the year,” Ezra Levin, Indivisible’s co-director, said in a statement. “They caved at the end of the year, but they promised to use their leverage in January. And now they caved again, but promised to use their leverage in February. Democrats clearly want to keep Dreamers as a talking point, but they need to grow a spine and actually fight for the Dream Act.”

Similar sentiment came out of dreamer organizations all day — frustration that the Democrats, who had been promised and denied immigration deals in the past, considered yet another promise to be a victory.

There were limits to the outrage. Democrats believe that the anger and cries of betrayal would have been worse had the party not fought the continuing resolution at all. One senator predicted that any deal short of a “clean Dream Act” — i.e., the deal that Democrats thought they had before the infamous “s—hole” meeting at the White House — was going to stoke a certain amount of anger in the base. Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), perhaps the fiercest advocate for dreamers in the House, caught a glimpse of that anger after suggesting that funding (or partially funding) a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border would be worth it if that meant a path for the Dream Act.

“If that is what it is going to take to get 800,000 young men and women and give them a chance to live freely and openly in America, then I’ll roll up my sleeves, I’ll go down there with bricks and mortar and begin the wall,” Gutierrez said over the weekend, comments that were torched by activists.

Those comments, however, pointed at where the DACA campaigners are likely headed next. After denouncing the way Democrats handled negotiations, by Monday afternoon most of the outraged groups were urging activists to pile on the pressure.

“Now is the time to get involved,” Indivisible’s Levin said in a Facebook Live event on Monday afternoon, hours after he had condemned the deal. “Over the next 24, 48 hours, make your voice heard.”

Indivisible, like many groups, was taking its lead from dreamers themselves. Angry at the conclusion of the shutdown fight, they argued that there was simply too much at stake for activists to tumble into infighting over another setback.

“People are afraid to pick their kids up at school because they’ve heard about ICE picking up parents,” Silva said in another interview before the end of the shutdown. “I understand that we’re not going to get what we may have gotten five years ago.”