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Immigration activists renew fight for Dreamers

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Immigration activists renew fight for Dreamers

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J. Scott Applewhite AP
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WASHINGTON — Immigrants fighting for legal status in the U.S. renewed chants of "We are not bargaining chips," in protests as government reopened Tuesday following a shutdown over an immigration legislation stalemate.

But the reality is that they face yet another round of largely behind-closed-doors bargaining in Congress over their futures.

With a deal struck to keep the government open until Feb. 8, Republicans and Democrats will return to negotiating over what immigration enforcement measures can be agreed to in exchange for a solution for about 700,000 immigrants.

Although there was anger and disappointment, activists returned to shouting through bullhorns, chanting outside the Capitol and protesting lawmakers' offices once again to push for a reasonable deal to allow many immigrants who arrived or stayed in the country illegally as children and have grown up here to remain.

Yenny Romero, an activist and Dreamer with Make the Road Pennsylvania, an advocacy group, became emotional. Ending the shutdown was "de-prioritizing us and telling us we are not worth it," she said.

"This is a struggle that we've been fighting for, for so long. It didn't happen yesterday. Yesterday was just another day we were let down," Romero said at the Capitol protest.

More of their anger seemed to be trained on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., than on Republicans, for ending the shutdown after three days and on a promise that many do not trust.

"Schumer, Schumer can't you see? What DACA means to me?," activists sang in the hallways of the Russell Senate Office Building Tuesday. DACA refers to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shields hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.

The immigration activists had pushed hard for Democrats to refuse to fund the government if Republicans didn't come across with a way for immigrants with DACA, at least, to remain in the U.S. and work — as they've been able to do since 2012.

"There is almost no hope of Republicans actually passing a bill to protect Dreamers unless it is attached to federal spending legislation," Voces de la Frontera, a Milwaukee immigrant advocacy group, said in a release calling on activists to continue to organize.

An NBC/Survey Monkey pollshowed that that 39 percent of Americans blamed Democrats for the shutdown and 38 percent blamed Trump. Just 18 percent blamed Republicans, but a combined total of 56 percent blamed the president and his party.

Julián Castro, the former housing secretary under President Barack Obama who has been pushing for legislation for Dreamers, was critical of the Democrats' decision to end the shutdown.

"That's not how I would have handled it," Castro told NBC News in a telephone interview.

Democrats failed to robustly message on the shutdown, he said. They should have done a better job of pointing out the many opportunities Republicans had to do something for the DACA immigrants and make the GOP own an extended shutdown if they continued to refuse to deal, he said.

The public respects people who stand on their principles and what they believe in, that's what Trump supporters believe about the president, he said.

"I don't know that they gained any leverage; at the same time, they deflated a lot of the base by doing that," said Castro, who is considered a potential 2020 White House candidate.

Stella Rouse, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland, said Democrats made a mistake by not sticking with the shutdown until they got more from Republicans.

"If you are going to hold out for a shutdown, you hold out" for better concessions, Rouse said.

She said she's certain Democrats felt pressure as poll numbers turned against them and Republicans began changing the narrative to accuse Democrats of holding Americans hostage over people they referred to as "illegal immigrants."

Image: Chuck Schumer
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), arrives at the U.S. Capitol at the start of the third day of the government shutdown on Jan. 22, 2018 in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite AP

Several Senate seats held by Democrats in swing districts are up for re-election. Although there is wide public support for continuing DACA, a turn in support for the shutdown could have made holding onto those seats in this year's midterm elections more difficult.

But Rouse said once Democrats decided to hold out they should have stuck with that choice.

"Once you decide you are going to do that, you get what you want or you don't do it," she said.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum which has worked to build conservative and Republican support for immigrants, said the shutdown worked and put Trump and the Republican leadership in a corner.

He said immigration activists wanted to see Democrats hold the line and they did and it is Republicans who lost the opportunity to resolve the issue.

"I think the public is understanding this issue more and more and as we move to February and the next deadline, I think the public is going to realize the Republican leadership is the one that has to fix the problems or the public will hold them responsible for deporting the Dreamers," he said.

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