On Saturday, the US government shut down after Congress failed to pass a new government funding law before the old one expired. The cause of the feud between Democrats and Republicans was protection of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients, otherwise known as "Dreamers."
DACA allows young undocumented individuals who arrived in the US as children to be given work permits and a renewable two-year period of deferred action for deportation. Since the Trump administration decided to end this program, which would leave many young immigrants without legal protection, most Democrats committed to withholding support for government funding bills with no provisions protecting young immigrants.
But on Monday, only three days into the shutdown, Senate Democrats made a concession in exchange for prolonging talks with Republicans on the fate of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers. Before the government shutdown, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told US President Donald Trump in a Friday meeting that he was willing to put the proposed border wall with Mexico "on the table" in a potential deal to prevent a shutdown.
When asked how she feels about the Senate agreement to end the government shutdown, Kim, a Dreamer herself, said, "It's hard to describe how I feel. I mean, I'm extremely disappointed. There is definitely an anger and sadness I am sharing with my community and fellow Dreamers. This is a terrible, terrible outcome and my heart goes out to all the Dreamers and undocumented families."
Although the end of the shutdown may seem like a Democratic win for paving more discussion on DACA, many immigration activists like Kim believe the Democrats have given up negotiating ground on funding the border wall between Mexico and the US. In addition, the vote to end the shutdown is perceived as a vote to prolong DACA discussions, which could end a variety of ways, rather than a vote to protect young immigrants.
"All that the Democrats got out of this is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise of a floor debate on immigration. Donald Trump never made such a promise and neither did Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Paul Ryan. So, I would venture to say there is very little likelihood that the Democrats are going to end up with anything tangible coming out of this vote. It's just words from Mitch McConnell. The New York Times is saying in an article they posted today that Democrats had to actually debate within their own conference as to whether or not they should even trust McConnell's word. They didn't even discuss Ryan and Trump," Kiriakou said.
Last Saturday, Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who has long opposed Trump's wall, told reporters he would support the president's wall in exchange for Dreamer protection.
"I think it would be a monumental waste of taxpayer money to build a monument to stupidity, but 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.
"Because a brick for lives, okay? Let's do it. Let me just say: that wall is offensive to me. It is insulting to me and people like me who have come to this country, but you know, people of my generation will do what they have to do. Because that is what we do for younger people," he added.
According to Kim, Gutierrez's shift in attitude is a controversial one that may confuse the narrative and message that Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants want Americans to hear.
"Our message has always been clear. We do not support a wall. We do not believe in a border wall and nor do the majority of Americans in both parties. Frankly, it's a waste of money and time. The wall, however, symbolizes the compromise between both parties. Senator Schumer made it clear when pitched his message on the floor during the last 72 hours or so that he saw the wall as a compromise to move this [immigration] process forward. He talked about having a private meeting with President Trump where he offered the wall [in exchange for DACA protection]," Kim explained.
"Senator Gutierrez's message should not be received as a championing for a border wall. It is a compromise in order to protect 11 million people who are vulnerable, including the Dreamers who make up three out of the total 11 million," she added.
"It's important to keep a focus. We want comprehensive immigration reform and protecting Dreamers should be part of that. Some politicians are using programs like DACA as a bargaining chip. The Republicans want some type of Republican version of comprehensive immigration reform in exchange for protection of Dreamers, which should have never been part of the conversation in the first place," Kim said.
However, Zeese is more optimistic that the end of the shutdown is a stride forward on immigration. On Monday, the US Senate passed legislation to reopen the government through February 8.
"We have 17 days until the next shutdown and that's 17 days where the Dreamer community and their supporters and allies can really step out [and make a difference] before this agreement runs out on February 8. It's going to be difficult because Paul Ryan in the House and Trump hasn't both haven't agreed to anything… I think we are going to win the Senate, but we still have to fight in the House and the White House," Zeese said.
"I'm been very impressed with the people fighting for the Dreamers and the Dreamers themselves. I think they have an incredible capacity to put pressure on chambers of the Congress and actually win this," he added.