Friday, Jan. 25, will be remembered as the day a woman put a president of the United States, known for his machismo and mistreatment of women, in his place. The woman is Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and leader of the majority Democratic Party in the chamber; the president is Donald Trump. After having repeatedly guaranteed that he would not give up in the face of the partial closure of the government that kept more than 800,000 federal employees in turmoil unless a budget bill included $5.7 billion for his border wall, Trump approved a temporary budget bill that allowed the government to reopen. That measure did not include a cent for the building of the wall, but the substantive aspect of the dispute that kept various parts of the government closed has only been postponed. It is fair to say that this first battle, although of a tactical nature, was won by the congressional Democrats.
The agreement reached between the leaders of both parties, in the Senate and House chambers, has postponed the definitive resolution of the conflict over the 2019 budget until Feb. 15. This signifies that the political budget negotiation between now and then continues to be a flash point issue for the country. The Trump White House has already made it clear that it will continue to insist on securing financing for its sadly famous border wall, although the description of what that means has begun to change.
In one of his most recent press conferences, Trump described what he defines as a border wall, not as a physical structure as he has described it so many times, but as a series of border control measures that includes many other elements. For their part, Democratic Party leaders have begun to soften their position, expressing openness to the approval of budget allocations close to the amount requested by Trump, as long as they are not funds exclusively dedicated to constructing a wall. In an article published by The New York Times on Saturday, Jan. 26, Rep. James Clyburn, the third highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, confirmed that his party is ready to consider billions in budget allocations for what he called a “smart wall.”
The change in the positioning of both parties suggests that the budget impasse regarding the 2019 budget could be on the way to a definitive solution at the latest on Feb. 15. But that change is not one that is necessarily beneficial for migrants. Preliminary indications suggest that the tactical defeat suffered by Trump, could be, in the end, a substantial victory for the racist and xenophobic agenda that has dominated the debate about immigrants and immigration policy during the most recent decades, and that has been pursued with such passion by Trump.
One of the positive aspects about the manner in which the debate about the closure of the government has evolved, including Trump’s speech on Jan. 19, was the mention of the uncertain situation in which more than a million people who have had temporary immigration authorization through programs such as DACA, TPS and DED.* The Trump administration has systematically cancelled these protective measures. In the case of the people protected by DACA, the vast majority of the beneficiaries are Mexicans, followed by Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans. In the case of TPS and DED, the vast majority are Salvadorans, Hondurans and Haitians. Unfortunately, those who work among a large group of organizations that promote immigrant rights in the United States have not arrived at a unified approach to taking maximum advantage of this difficult and dangerous atmosphere in the budget negotiations.
The situation is particularly true of those organizations that have in recent years prioritized the beneficiaries of DACA, TPS and DED. One of the schools of thought in pro-immigrant rights organizations suggests that the only legislative initiatives that are worth supporting are those that do not include any type of additional restrictive, exclusionary or punitive measures. Even more, this school of thought demands the withdrawal of the many punitive measures already in place. In principle, this argument makes a lot of sense. Clearly, there is no need to spend more on punitive and exclusionary measures, given the history of the last 30 years. Since 1996, immigrant communities, especially Latin American ones, have been the target of a generation of repressive policies, still in place now, that perpetuate the narrative that immigrants are a threat to the country.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001 were used to strengthen that narrative, all of which has resulted in great human cost to the Mexican and other Latin American communities. If it is true that there were extremist sectors within the Republican Party motivated by racial and xenophobic prejudices who started this movement, the Democratic Party leadership has yielded to this type of thinking since 2002.
To find a more sensible course of political action in what remains of this political situation around the final outcome of the budget negotiation, it is crucial to understand the interrelationship of political forces. That interrelationship was defined to a great degree by the electoral results of last November: The Democratic Party now controls the House of Representatives, while the Republican Party controls the Senate and Trump continues to be president.
Beyond the hopes that one might have about how to correct the flawed public policy trajectory that the nation has followed regarding the treatment of immigrants who already live in the U.S., such as immigration policy, the way these forces are related cannot be ignored.
For other organizations that argue in favor of immigrant rights and in favor of an immigration policy guided by common sense, including organizations like Alianza Americas,** the budget negotiations offer a propitious political opportunity to demand specific solutions for populations in vulnerable situations, such as those who have had work permits under DACA, TPS or DED, which the Trump administration has already decided to cancel. All of that, without ceasing to denounce the absurdity of continuing to squander public resources to reinforce the framework of public policies based on false narratives, including the one that suggests that immigrants are a threat to the country.
Then, there is a question that remains current: Is it really possible to take advantage of this final round of negotiations to benefit immigrant communities and protect vulnerable people who are now seeking humanitarian protection in this country? To be able to continue having influence at this important juncture, we will have to make an extraordinary effort during the following weeks to take advantage of the extension of the budget negotiation; to demand concrete solutions from Democrats and Republicans to urgent problems like the cancellation of temporary protections that have kept millions of protected persons from the risk of being deported, and granted them work permits for many years.
We should also demand solutions in the face of the systematic denial of humanitarian protection for people who have been forcibly displaced from their countries of origin and who seek to apply for asylum and other forms of humanitarian assistance. We should also demand more forceful measures to ensure the definitive end to the separation of minors from their parents.
The worst outcome of the political situation regarding the 2019 budget would be to end it with only the allocation of billions of dollars to strengthen operational systems based on flawed premises (the “smart wall” of which Rep. Clyburn spoke), without a resolution of the real problems that, if not solved, will lead to new crises in the next two years.
*Editor's Note: DACA refers to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, TPS refers to Temporary Protected Status, and DED refers to Deferred Enforcement Departure.
**Editor's Note: Alianza Americas is a nonprofit organization led by Latin American immigrants focused on improving the quality of life of people in the U.S.-Mexico-Central American migration corridor.