Some DACA recipients wary of Democrats considering deal with Trump

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. accompanied by members of the House and Senate Democrats, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. House and Senate Democrats gather to call for Congressional Republicans to stand up to President Trump's decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative by bringing the DREAM Act for a vote on the House and Senate Floor. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Protesters angry that President Donald Trump has cast uncertainty on the future of a program protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, threatening to deport hundreds of thousands of young adults, directed their ire at a perhaps surprising target Monday: Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The California congresswoman was leading a press conference in San Francisco to demand an immediate vote on the Dream Act, which would make permanent the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program implemented by President Barack Obama.

The event was disrupted by a large group of demonstrators chanting and holding up signs accusing Democrats of failing to protect immigrants and calling for a vote on the same legislation.

“We undocumented youth demand a clean bill … We undocumented youth demand that you do not sell out our community and our values …We undocumented youth will not be a bargaining chip for Trump,” they said, according to CBS San Francisco.

Since President Trump announced he was ending the program, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have been discussing a possible agreement with him that would preserve the program in exchange for some manner of increased border security.

Pelosi was clearly frustrated by the interruption, at first attempting to argue with them and then just urging them to stop.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said at one point.

Eventually, Pelosi and her colleagues packed up and left. After fleeing the event, she told reporters the activists are wrong to insist on a vote on the Dream Act without broader immigration reform.

“I wish they would channel some of that energy into the Republican districts so we can pass the Dream Act,” Pelosi said, according to the Washington Post.

Democrats who share Pelosi’s perspective may see such protests against ostensible allies of the movement as counterproductive, but the activists obviously disagree.

“Pushing Democrats to take a more progressive stance is how we got DACA in the first place. We believe in pushing people who say they’re on our side, not those who are not,” protest organizer Luis Serrano told the San Francisco Chronicle.

It is ultimately a matter of trust, and nobody involved in this debate has much of it for the other sides. Immigration activists do not believe Trump wants to protect them, and based on policies that allowed for record levels of deportation under President Obama, they do not have terribly much faith in congressional Democrats either.

“Obama deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president, and Pelosi and Schumer might cut a deal that includes the border wall,” said Jason Del Gandio, a professor at Temple University and author of “Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists.” “From this perspective, there's not much to lose.”

The disruption of Pelosi’s press conference also delivered a clear message, according to Glenn Altschuler, Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University.

“The response to Leader Pelosi is a way for Democrats to say we are here and we are not going to be happy if you make a deal that does not include a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients,” he said.

One of the complaints lodged by protesters Monday was that Pelosi has not done enough to fight deportations in the past.

“Pelosi moved forward with the negotiation without consulting immigrant youth and community members who have been frustrated by her lack of support for immigrant justice in California,” a CIYJA petition stated. “The protestors made it clear that they will not accept a DREAM Act if it means criminalizing the remaining 11 million undocumented people or adding more border militarization.”

However, if Democrats want some say in whether the passage of the Dream Act means criminalizing the remaining 11 million undocumented people or adding more border militarization, they need to negotiate with President Trump because they have no power otherwise.

Arnie Arnesen, a liberal radio host on WNHN 94.7FM in Concord N.H., acknowledged the Dreamers are essentially a “bargaining chip,” but given the position Democrats are in, getting them on the table at all is an opening Schumer and Pelosi can work with.

“By protecting them, we’re going to protect more than them…. We’ve got to start somewhere,” she said.

Arnesen was a supporter of Bernie Sanders and is no great fan of the Democratic leadership, but she supports the strategy of bargaining with Trump when they can get something from him, as long as they keep in mind that they cannot trust him.

“There’s no roadmap for negotiating with someone that doesn’t really value a handshake…,” she said.

“They have to enter every situation with Donald Trump with their eyes wide open and play it out in every direction possible.”

She doubts the occasional protest from angry voices on the left will sway Pelosi from her course.

“She’s been doing this for so long, I don’t think she has underwear,” she said. “I think she has armor.”

The DACA spat follows an agreement between Trump and Democrats earlier this month to approve hurricane relief funds and keep the government funded through December by raising the federal debt ceiling. Arnesen emphasized that it would be a mistake to interpret Schumer and Pelosi working with Trump on these few issues as bridge-building or putting their differences behind them.

“They understand that Donald Trump is someone that doesn’t keep his word,” she said. “They’re using him.”

In an interview with Sinclair last week, Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., argued that if Trump offers a good deal, there is little reason for Democrats not to take it.

“Whatever it takes to get things done is what we should be doing here,” he said, “and I’ll take it as a signal of potential bipartisanship.”

Others on the left, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have already raised concerns about the direction in which DACA negotiations are heading.

“I don’t like the starting point of this negotiation, and I think the Democrats have to exercise extreme caution,” he said on 970 AM radio Sunday.

Liberal activist groups remain nervous about giving up any ground to the president.

“Nothing Trump has done should change the fact that he’s pursuing a toxic agenda, that he has been and continues to be divisive and disastrous,” Justin Krebs, campaign director at, told Politico last week. “The American people at large know that, and Democratic leaders should not forget that.”

The debate points to a problem Democrats have wrestled with since the morning after the election: how far do they take their opposition to Trump? Do they stand against him every day on every issue, or do they attempt to work with him when it advances their own interests?

The most emphatic members of the resistance would seemingly be satisfied by little short of impeachment proceedings, and they have bristled at any inkling that Democrats in Congress are cooperating with Trump.

“Some people are morally repulsed by Democrats working with Trump on the issue of immigration,” Del Gandio said. Their evaluation of Trump is guided by his derision of undocumented immigrants on the campaign trail and the support he draws from groups that literally threaten the lives of immigrant populations.

“The logic thus follows that standing with Trump is equivalent to standing with neo-Nazis and white supremacists,” he added.

More pragmatic progressives recognize the political reality that Democrats cannot do much of anything alone in Washington, adopting an open yet still highly skeptical stance toward potential compromise with Trump.

“We’re getting a graphic illustration of the difficulty of governing in a highly partisan, polarized political environment,” Altschuler said.

Trump faces a similar calculation. Many in his base have been infuriated by the prospect of a compromise on immigration.

“We’re seeing it in Republican zealots burning ‘Make America Great Again’ hats to remind President Trump of the importance of his stance on border security…and we’re seeing a response from the Democratic base to make sure that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer don’t give away core principles on a pathway to citizenship for the DACA constituency,” Altschuler said.

Expecting the minority party in both chambers of Congress to dictate the terms of an agreement is perhaps a stretch.

“In terms of what they can accomplish, it does seem difficult for Democrats to wage a lot of leverage with this issue or any issue,” Del Gandio said.

The deal on the debt ceiling might provide a model, but it cost both sides very little. The stakes are much higher with immigration policies that could directly impact millions.

“There aren’t more than 12 American citizens who are very exercised that the debt ceiling has been extended for three months instead of six months,” Altschuler said. Whether ground is broken on a border wall or Dreamers are dragged from the country in chains, on the other hand, are issues that could drive turnout in 2018 and 2020 for both parties.

Democrats have so far reaped little tangible benefit from their initial dealings with Trump. They got a short-term debt ceiling increase that might provide them more leverage in negotiations in December, but in exchange, they left the legislative calendar for the rest of the month relatively open.

Into that void has swept one final shot at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and Republicans say they nearly have the votes to do it next week.

Altschuler cautioned against laying blame for a possible Obamacare repeal on the debt ceiling deal because that outcome was never really in doubt.

“There was going to be a raising of the debt ceiling. It may have been a little messier and uglier if it occurred outside of this agreement, but it would have occurred,” he said.

If the relatively minor debt ceiling compromise elicited outrage from the Democratic base, a DACA deal they are displeased with could create much larger shockwaves. In a political system in flux, though, experts are hesitant to predict what the fallout would be.

“Our ability to judge the optics or politics of them working with Trump has to wait and see what gets accomplished,” Del Gandio said.

If Schumer and Pelosi succeed in getting what the Democratic base wants, there will be little to complain about. If they fail, they will have sacrificed moral capital in the eyes of their supporters with nothing to show for it.

“Just about everybody is watching this one for signs of where each party and each player will draw the line,” Altschuler said. “And many, many conclusions and projections for other issues will be drawn based on where this particular negotiation goes or doesn’t go.”

Refusing to negotiate at all, as some on the extremes on both sides demand, is not seen as an option with the clock on DACA ticking.

“Holding your nose and walking away is not what you were elected to do,” Arnesen said.

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