Editors Note: As this article went to press the Supreme Court declined to hear the Trump administration’s appeal of a lower court ruling that keeps the DACA program functioning for the time being – at least until an appeals court hears the case. This is a temporary reprieve for Dreamers but no reliance should be placed in the courts. If and when the Supreme Court does hear the case they may very well rule in favor of the Trump administration. The need for a serious strategy to defeat Trump and the Republicans and defend Dreamers is just as urgent as it was before this announcement.
Last September, Trump and his Attorney General, the odious Jeff Sessions, declared that they were rescinding DACA, the highly popular program brought in by Obama that protects 800,000 Dreamer immigrant youth from deportation and allows them to work and attend college. He gave Congress a deadline of March 5. Trump then said that he wanted Congress to bring in legislation to protect the Dreamers, at one point calling for a “bill of love.” He made clear that legislation had to include funding for a wall with Mexico as well as a massive cut to legal immigration.
In January, the Senate Democrats shut down the government demanding that a deal be done to secure the position of Dreamers in exchange for agreeing on a budget with the Republicans. They also made clear though that they were willing to agree to fully funding the wall. Even then, Trump refused to make a deal. After three days, the majority of the Democratic Senators caved. In the weeks following, they clarified that they were “decoupling” the budget from DACA, effectively abandoning their leverage. In mid-February, a budget bill was passed that includes massive increases in military spending but also significant increases in domestic spending.
In exchange for “decoupling,” the Senate Democrats were promised a debate on immigration. Four bills were proposed but none of them got the necessary 60 votes. The position in the House is even more deadlocked. Socialist Alternative predicted that a deal with Republicans would be very hard to achieve. The hard right see any path to citizenship for Dreamers as “amnesty” and even Trump’s reactionary proposals as a betrayal. There is still an outside chance of some form of “kicking the can down the road” compromise where DACA is left standing in its current form for a period but it looks increasingly likely that DACA will simply expire. Meanwhile ICE raids have been stepped up – including workplace raids and targeting of prominent immigrant activists.
Socialist Alternative has repeatedly called for mass action to defend dreamers, pointing out that a “clean Dream Act” without a lot of reactionary baggage attached would require an escalating series of major mobilizations by immigrants and their allies in the native-born population with unionized workers playing a leading role. This is the only way to bring the necessary pressure to bear to see this through.
Despite posturing – and an eight-hour speech in the House of Representative by Nancy Pelosi – the truth is that Dreamers and the whole immigrant population were abandoned and betrayed by the leadership of the Democratic Party who, in the end, refused to use the leverage they had in Congress to defend against vicious Republican attacks. They also refused to mobilize people in the streets. The Democrats are opposed to social struggle unless they’re talking about past social struggles – ones that are long over and safe to eulogize. This past summer they refused to engage in any serious mobilization to defeat Trumpcare which was ultimately only narrowly defeated due to its massive unpopularity and Republican divisions.
Increasingly, the focus of millions who want to strike a blow against Trump is being directed to the November midterm elections and the prospect of the Democratic Party taking control of the House, possibly (but much less likely) taking control of the Senate, and making significant gains at the state level. We strongly sympathize with the desire to see the Republicans driven from office, but the problem is that in the absence of a mass movement that fights the Republicans’ attacks in the meantime, the right wing and Trump have begun scoring victories. The biggest was the highly regressive tax bill passed in December. This is combined with a wave of attacks on women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and the right to protest. This is not to mention Trump’s environmental and financial deregulation. And now there is the likelihood of a massive defeat for immigrant youth and their families.
Public sector unions are also firmly in the crosshairs of the right with the Janus case in front of the Supreme Court and a decision expected by June. If upheld, Janus will significantly weaken labor in the sector where it is best organized. It is understandable why watching the daily soap opera in the White House, many would conclude that Trump and the Republicans are completely incapable of getting things done, but this would be a serious mistake.
We Can’t Wait Until November
The leadership of the Democratic Party have shown that they are incapable of holding the line against Trump. Even if they regain control of the House, it is clear that Schumer and Pelosi are opposed to bringing impeachment proceedings against Trump or pushing for Medicare for All legislation.
Building a real mass movement around a program that speaks to the needs of working people will also be necessary the day after the Democrats take control of the House and unfortunately they will still be unwilling to do it. While we sympathize with those who seek to turn the Democrats into a “people’s party,” the past year’s experience reinforces why we need a new party free of corporate influence that bases itself on social struggle. But the betrayals of the leadership will only sharpen the anger of ordinary Democrats and increase the tensions which point toward a massive internal crisis.
From the start of Trump’s administration, it was clear that attacks on immigrants were a central part of his agenda. When Trump’s Muslim ban was announced, thousands spontaneously occupied the airports. There was a massive willingness to fight but no leadership from the Democrats or mass organizations really prepared to carry this fight forward on a sustained basis.
The passivity and weakness of the Democratic leadership was unfortunately entirely predictable. The real tragedy is that no other force – whether the unions, immigrant and civil rights organizations, or genuine progressives like Bernie Sanders – has stepped into the breach.
This is why the marvelous example of youth standing up to Trump, the Republicans, and the NRA in the wake of the Parkland massacre is so important. These young people are not prepared to accept hollow Republican condolences or to “wait until November.” They are demanding action now and are ramping up the pressure by organizing a national student walkout on March 14 and a massive march in Washington on March 24. The teacher unions who have been relentlessly campaigning against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos should be mobilizing to take action alongside students.
Demanding action on the public health crisis of gun violence is an excellent starting point. Millions of young people also completely reject the racist, sexist, and xenophobic agenda of this administration. Let’s win the fight for basic gun control measures and give schools the resources needed to help students in crisis. This youth fightback can be a critical part of building a wider struggle against the whole agenda of the right and to drive Trump out.