Texas’ approximately 110,000 DACA holders have no idea if or when Congress will assure them a future in the U.S.
Around two dozen immigrant rights activists sang Christmas carols outside the Texas governor’s mansion Tuesday evening as a reminder that nearly 700,000 young immigrants nationwide face an “infeliz navidad” if Congress doesn’t find a solution for DACA. President Trump is set to terminate the Obama-era program, which allows immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to live and work in the country, on March 5.
“As you see behind me, [Governor Greg Abbott] is ready for Christmas and the holidays,” said Luis Ortega, volunteer director of Immigrants United, as he gestured toward the wreath-draped mansion. “A time that should bring joy and comfort, but for many of us it will be a cheerless holiday.”
Ortega, 23, is one of around 110,000 current DACA holders in Texas hoping for Congress to clear up their futures. Some have already lost their benefits either by failing to meet an October deadline or through official mishandling, and if lawmakers don’t act by March 5, DACA recipients will see their work permits start expiring at a rate of nearly 1,000 a day nationally.
Ortega, who’s lived in Texas since he was 5, works full-time in retail and studies in Austin’s community college system, on top of directing his nonprofit. He says he applied to renew his DACA status before the Trump-mandated deadline in October, but he has yet to receive his new work permit, which expires December 29. He said he fears the document won’t arrive in time and he’ll lose his job. “That will be the last day I can work legally and help support my family,” he said.
Yuridia Loera, a 22-year-old activist with the immigrant rights group United We Dream, was also present Tuesday and said she has yet to receive a permit that she applied for in April. Her authorization is now expired.
Ortega and Loera were joined in downtown Austin Tuesday evening by a small crowd that shivered against a cold front as they sang their modified holiday songs of protest. In their rendition, the classic “El burrito de Belén” changed to a song of popular resistance: “con mi protesta y mi pueblo, voy camino a mis sueños.”
The future of the “Dreamers” is currently shrouded in congressional bickering. Congress members have introduced various measures that could offer a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. The preferred vehicle for many immigrant advocates is the Dream Act of 2017, which offers the least onerous path to status.
Meanwhile, Congress faces a December 8 deadline for passing a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, and Senate Republicans will need at least eight Democratic votes to do so. Some prominent Democrats, such as California’s Kamala Harris and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, have pledged not to vote for any spending bill that lacks a DACA fix.
On Monday, U.S. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, blasted them on the Senate floor. “That’s simply a hysterical and cynical ploy – putting their party and their agenda ahead of the nation,” he said. The Senate Majority Whip argued that lawmakers could easily assemble a DACA solution in January or February, and there was no need to risk a shutdown.
But advocates are wary of letting a decision slip into the new year. “If Republicans somehow manage to kick the can to next spring, what’s predictable is that they’ll load up an inadequate DACA fix with enough poison pills to ensure opposition,” said the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice in a statement Monday.
Cornyn is also co-sponsor on a bill introduced Tuesday that would pair border security measures with a three-year extension of DACA that Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, has called “a witch’s brew of nativist poison pills topped by a stingy, temporary three-year reprieve.”
On Tuesday morning, 34 House Republicans sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan supporting a DACA fix before the year’s end. Two Texans signed the letter: retiring Congressman Joe Barton, and Will Hurd, whose District 23 spans one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border and is one of the state’s most competitive. Though the Republicans fell short of promising to withhold votes on the upcoming spending bill, House GOP leadership currently favors a version that would extend only through December 22, which could create a second chance to include the immigration legislation.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the Trump administration for its handling of the DACA program. The administration has fought to halt discovery in those cases to avoid releasing documents relevant to its deliberations on the policy. The Justice Department most recently filed with the U.S. Supreme Court to stymy a suit filed by six “Dreamers,” which accuses the president of “unconstitutional bias against Mexicans and Latinos.”
United We Dream, which has held frequent actions targeting members of Congress, held a die-in Tuesday afternoon outside the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Julieta Garibay, a Texas organizer with the group, said Tuesday they have actions planned targeting Texas Congress members as well, including Hurd and Representative John Culberson, a Houston Republican.