On January 25, the United States federal government reopened after a 35-day-long shutdown without any concrete deal regarding a budget for the fiscal year of 2019. The reopening is temporary, however; if Congress does not reach a deal by February 15 — presumably, one that includes $5.7 billion in allocated funds for a new border wall — then President Trump will resume the longest shutdown in the country’s history.
Started by the president as a means to force through his heavily-advertised plans for a wall, Trump and his supporters in Congress brought forward an offer to opposition: funds for the wall in exchange for temporarily extended protections to immigrants granted Temporary Protected Status or receiving DACA protections. Democrats rejected the proposal, however, refusing to cede any money to the Republicans’ immigration agenda. On the flip side, Democrats offered a proposal that did not involve any wall funds, but this too bore no fruit.
Through the course of these events — and through the events that will continue into February 15 — the immigrant community has become the focus for the conversation, and yet their voice has not been proportionally heard. In the Boston area, immigrant activist groups have been extremely vocal about the issues regarding the shutdown, and they want the larger public to listen.
“We knew [Trump] would criminalize undocumented folks, torment immigrants with temporary statuses like DACA and TPS, and use us as bargaining chips to get irresponsible and ineffective policies imposed,” said Valeria Do Val, a Brazilian immigrant, DACA recipient, and Lead Coordinator for the Student Immigration Movement. “Policymakers shouldn’t give Trump the wall or ramp up his deportation force in exchange for our safety.”
Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, expressed similar frustration, though she is glad to see some headway being made.
“It’s good to see the President finally recognize that the only way out of this shutdown is to actually negotiate, not just stick to his position while repeating false and misleading talking points. And it’s good that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell… finally allow[ed] a vote on at least one proposal to end the shutdown,” Millona said. “However, [Trump’s] offer on the table cannot be taken seriously. It continues to include billions of dollars for what is essentially a monument to fear and xenophobia, and the concessions it purports to make are woefully inadequate.”
The concessions Millona references are the extended protections to DACA recipients and TPS holders. Opposition to Trump’s proposal have denounced these concessions as ambiguous at best and a long-term detriment at worst; U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer called them “a poison pill, if there ever was one.”
“The… President didn’t explain precisely what his offer for Dreamers entails, and he gave no indication that it would involve permanent residency with a path to citizenship, the only possible fair deal,” Millona said. “Similarly, for TPS holders, he didn’t offer permanent residency, but only a three-year extension of TPS – which should rightfully have been extended already, as conditions in the affected countries remain dire, per the State Department’s own experts and diplomats.”
Valeria Do Val is in agreement with Millona’s push for more progressive reforms, and argues that even more widespread social changes will need to take place if the larger immigration issue is ever going to be adequately resolved.
“We won’t settle for mediocre, temporary fixes that continue to harm and destroy our families and communities. The undocumented community needs a pathway to citizenship,” Do Val said. “And the corporate bodies [and] institutions that the government continues to protect need to be held accountable and take responsibility for causing gross amounts of forced migrations attributing to our current immigration crisis not only here in the U.S. but across the world.”
In the meantime, as Congress fights just to keep the government open into February, Eva Millona demands that policymakers listen to the biggest stakeholders in this fight.
“Keep listening to affected communities. The voices of Dreamers, TPS holders, border communities, and immigrant advocates all need to be heard. Don’t assume you know what’s right for immigrants – ask.”