Politics & Government

Dreamer solution critical to Democrats’ House prospects

Immigrant rights supporters gather at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The groups and allies are demanding that Congress pass a 'Clean Dream Act' that will prevent the deportation of Dreamers working and studying in the U.S.
Immigrant rights supporters gather at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The groups and allies are demanding that Congress pass a 'Clean Dream Act' that will prevent the deportation of Dreamers working and studying in the U.S. AP

Ten of the Republican-held House seats Democrats hope to flip next year have big Hispanic populations — and the party sees the looming battle over Dreamers as critical in winning those elections.

The San Antonio district of Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican, is a top target of both parties next year. Nearly 70 percent of its population is Hispanic.

Two Florida districts targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, held by Rep. Carlos Curbelo and the retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, are 74 and 83 percent Hispanic, respectively.

Democrats are also targeting seven Republican-held districts in California, which has the largest population of DACA recipients on any state in the country.

The big question: How far will Democrats go on an issue that’s critical to a politically significant chunk of their base and could bring them close to a House majority. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats next year to win control.

“Democrats have been standing firm on the DACA fix, because they understand the political consequences if they don’t,” said Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist who specializes in the Latino vote.

Federal government agencies face a shutdown if Congress doesn’t pass a new funding bill by Friday night. But Democrats are insisting any legislation include a solution for the more than 800,000 young people living in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program.

More than 120,000 DACA recipients live in Texas, and more than 7,700 live in Tarrant County.

Republicans will try to give Congress two more weeks, until Dec. 22, to come up with a funding, and possibly a DACA, deal.

Democratic leaders have said they won’t leave Washington without some resolution for the Dreamers. Leaders from both parties will meet with President Donald Trump at the White House Thursday for talks.

“Numbers show that almost 70 percent of Latinos know somebody who is undocumented,” said Rocha. “DACA should be easy, these are kids who spent the majority of their lives in this country, they don’t even know their home country.”

One Democratic Senate aide said the two parties are in discussions about a solution that would pair a Dream Act, which offers a pathway to legal status for DACA recipients, with additional border security measures.

But that route could irritate Democratic activists, who have pushed party leaders to reject Republicans’ demands for border measures to accompany a DACA solution.

Young immigrants and both Republican and Democratic politicians in South Florida disagreed with President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind DACA.

“The Dreamers represent the vanguard and also the most sympathetic of the Trump targets in our community. It’s attacking Latino families at their weakest link, the immigrants,” said one Democratic congressional aide.

The aide said many Democrats are ready to force the Republicans to pass the budget without Democratic votes. That in turn could give Democrats an important talking point as they seek votes in those 10 districts were the GOP is vulnerable.

Many Republicans agreed that Congress should come up with a solution for allowing DACA recipients to stay in the country.

Ros-Lehtinen tweeted Monday “Congress must pass a legislative fix for #Dreamers this year. These young immigrants not only dream of a better future in the U.S., but love our nation.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told reporters last week that he received assurances from GOP leaders that Congress would come up with a DACA fix in exchange for his vote on the GOP’s tax bill.

But Republican leaders say any fix before the end of the year must come with added border security, and activists on the right want their party to save their leverage for a better deal next year.

“If Congress does want to do something related to DACA, they’ve got plenty of time to do it,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for the immigration reduction group NumbersUSA. “[Republicans] seriously risk losing a big portion of their base if they cave on this issue and give in to Democratic demands.”

Chmielenski said his group is urging Republican lawmakers to not to address DACA in the year-end spending bill — and force Democrats to shut down the government if they disagree.

Republican leaders are trying to pair a DACA fix with tougher immigration measures, plans that they hope will lure some Democrats.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, have assembled a border security package they hope can be paired with a DACA fix.

The proposal has been criticized by Democratic leaders, who say it wades too far into rewriting immigration laws.

Cornyn’s proposal, which uses technology to monitor some parts of the border, could draw support from Democrats who’d rather see added border security than a government shutdown.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that before the end of the year we’re going to find a way to get permanent protections in place for Dreamers, based on conversations with both Democrats and Republicans,” said Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas.

O’Rourke, who represents El Paso on the border of Texas and Mexico, said he could be open to border security measures if they didn’t militarize the border. Of Democrats’ options he added: “I can’t be part of shutting down the government.”

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch

Emily Cadei: 202-383-6153, @emilycadei