Immigration Activists Are About to Go Off on Chuck Schumer

The Minority Leader punted on a standoff over the DREAM Act. Now the policy war around that bill is about to become a circular firing squad.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Immigration advocates are gearing up for a three week blitz to pass protections for undocumented immigrant children after the Senate voted on a short-term funding bill without them Monday.  

But while advocates universally see this as a critical juncture for the future of the DREAM Act, there’s already some disagreement over where to focus the fire. Republicans may be withholding their votes. But many groups are planning to target Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) instead.

“What I can tell you off the bat is that Senator Schumer should expect that he will be facing a lot of anger from a base that expected him to show more courage,” Kica Matos, Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change, told The Daily Beast in an interview on Monday afternoon.

For some organizations, the case for targeting Schumer comes down to showing Democrats that their base will revolt if a deal on the DREAM Act doesn’t materialize before the midterms. And to deliver that message, they are willing to adopt aggressive tactics.

A trio of progressive organizations, including CREDO, is hosting an event on Tuesday night that will bring activists to the front lawn of Schumer’s home in Brooklyn. They are also in the process of printing signs for the event which read “Worst negotiator in Washington. And Brooklyn. #SchumerSellout,” superimposed on an image of the Minority Leader’s face.

“What we see strategically is that the fish rots from the top,” said Murshed Zaheed, political director and vice president of CREDO.

For these groups, Schumer’s heresy came on Monday, when he corralled many of his colleagues to vote for a spending bill to keep the government open with a flimsy assurance from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that legislation would be brought up to codify protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. That deal set up a new funding deadline of February 8, before which progressives want to ensure that Schumer and other Democrats don’t go—in their estimation—wobbly again.

“We're targeting Dems who voted for this CR (continuing resolution),” Angel Padilla, policy director for Indivisible, a resistance organization formed in response to Trump’s presidency, told The Daily Beast. “They sold out Dreamers. They failed to stand up to Trump's white supremacy. They had the support of the grassroots and they caved. It also demonstrates that Democrats remain terrified of immigration. And they will continue to run from it.”

But elsewhere in the immigration advocacy community the notion that Democrats should be targeted during this critical, three week juncture is, at best, harebrained and at worst counterproductive. Schumer, as one top advocate noted, got his entire caucus behind the DREAM Act—no small feat considering the moderate members he has up for re-election. And the only reason he voted to reopen the government is because many of those moderates had forced his hand into doing so by saying they’d back McConnell’s measure.

“Schumer here wasn’t the problem,” the advocate said, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to incur the wrath of his contemporaries. “Schumer was holding his ground on this. It was the moderates who undercut the leader.”  

Reached for comment, Matt House, a spokesman for Schumer’s office, said: “Let’s take advantage of the renewed attention and sympathy for Dreamers, and focus on winning the vote 17 days from now."

Advocacy groups often must make difficult decisions when plotting out how to move their priorities on the Hill. This is particularly true with the upcoming debate on immigration, where there is a finite window to act and lawmakers have already staked out fairly firm positions. While some progressive groups are gearing up to target Democratic leaders and others look to be prioritizing Republican moderates, virtually all say that they’re prepping a massive show of political force.

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Just this upcoming week alone, Matos said they have 28 activities planned in 16 states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New York, (all states where Senators voted in favor of the spending bill) ranging from press conferences to vigils and rallies.

“One of the things we put a call out to immediately is to have impacted young people and those who support us to go to every town hall that members of Congress are having to show them the sense of anger that there is,” Matos said.

MoveOn, the progressive advocacy organization, had already scheduled some 21 events in the next two days across the country pushing for the passage of the DREAM Act as well as funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which had languished over 100 days after its reauthorization deadline but was finally funded for six years in the spending bill that passed.

The rallies that are taking place in districts run by Democrats and will now be rebranded as “accountability events,” Ben Wikler, Washington director for the progressive group MoveOn told The Daily Beast.

“Campaigns like this look like a heartbeat monitor with valleys and peaks,” he said describing the constant toil of activist work. “There needs to be an explosive reaction now and then another crescendo closer to the deadline next time.”

Indivisible, meanwhile, sponsored what they called the Dreamer Pledge with over two dozen other organizations, including United We Dream—the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country—months ago. It was intended to hold members of Congress accountable and get them to promise to protect DREAMers. The website was updated on Monday after votes were tallied, branding Democrats and Republicans alike who supported the short-term spending bill “Dream Killers,” and the members who voted against it “Dream Heroes.”

The coalition of groups pushing for the DREAM Act are borrowing some lessons from the broad organizations of progressive groups that successfully beat back Republican efforts at Obamacare repeal last summer.

But unlike that legislative battle, this one seems more likely to devolve into a circular firing squad. Asked pointedly why someone like Schumer would be the cause of ire as opposed to say Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who supports the DREAM act, Padilla said “Gardner didn't betray dreamers and progressives.”

“How are we going to win, fight, resist, if we can't trust even our supposed friends in Congress,” he added.

With reporting by Sam Stein