Orlando DACA recipients hope for truth in shutdown truce with Trump and GOP

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PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
The weekend-long federal government furlough was more sideshow than shutdown – and in the end, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients are still without a fix as their futures grow more uncertain with each passing day.

On Friday, it seemed as though Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and his fellow Democrats had finally callused over and gotten tough on their oft-discussed pro-immigration stance. They played a game of chicken with the GOP over passing a new government funding law before the old one expired; as a compromise for the votes to do so, Democrats bargained a deal on protections for the more than 700,000 DACA recipients and Dreamers – undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children – living nationwide. (Here’s an explanation of the DREAM Act.)

Republicans balked, but Democrats held steady as the reality of the first government shutdown in four years began to set in prior to the weekend. For a fleeting moment, there seemed to be hope.



“Here we are where we’re so close and passionate and we’re pushing for it, and the only way that we are going to get the GOP’s attention is to do something like this,” Kevin Ortiz, a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida who received DACA status in late 2013, tells Orlando Weekly.

Like DACA recipients and immigrant allies across the country, Ortiz thought the strategy was “no DREAM Act, no spending bill.”

The stiffened spines on the Democrats’ part followed the Trump administration’s decision to end the Obama-era program in September, after President Donald Trump heeded U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ advice to sunset the five-year-old executive order. As a result, Trump waved off responsibility on the matter and gave Congress until March 5 to figure out a solution – a move that, in hindsight, was sure to boil over into the disaster happening today.

After almost five months of negotiations, the original deadline is now just 40 days away.

At first, discussion of the shutdown seemed to sway in Democrats’ favor, energizing their base. Then Monday afternoon happened. Democratic leadership got the yips and swerved, checking whatever leverage they had at Congress’ door. It was the party’s way of saying they’d rather not pull a Ted Cruz a la 2013 by disrupting the federal government for days, or weeks, on end – which party leaders concluded would be a risk leading up to the 2018 midterm elections.

“Some of them are frustrated and disappointed with the Democrats and how they’ve gone about it,” Ortiz says. “The fact that we got it shut down but now they open it back up, it feels like we didn’t do anything. It feels like this promise that we will be discussing is not enough.”

Sandra Villa-Lomeli received her DACA status in early 2013. She’s set to graduate from Valencia College in May and had previously planned on continuing her education at UCF. But due to her recent uncertainty of her status as a DREAMer, she says she’s now considering putting those plans on hold.

“Not only am I putting money into it, which tuition is not cheap, but I’m also putting my time into it, and my energy,” Villa-Lomeli tells OW. “It’s like I don’t want to do all these things for it to be just gone.”

Trump’s signature on the temporary stopgap funding bill – which is set to keep the government open until at least Feb. 8, as well as keeping the door open for bipartisan immigration talks beforehand or else risking another shutdown – came shortly thereafter on Monday.

From the floor of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, could be seen smiling as if he’d snatched away Charlie Brown’s football.

Villa-Lomeli says she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t angry about the result.

“I really thought they were fighting for us – I thought they were fighting really hard for us,” she says. “Now all of a sudden, it’s just like, what do we do now? We’re back to square one. It was like taking one step forward but taking ten steps back.”

Ortiz agrees to an extent, albeit in a separate conversation. He says he thinks the Democrats did what they could, but that it looks as if the GOP outsmarted them.

“The narrative goes: Every day, DACA recipients lose their status and the urgency’s there and we don’t have two months to get things done – and that’s true,” Ortiz says.

“We don’t have two months. People need this now, needed it yesterday, needed it six months ago, needed it last year. So the urgency’s been there and I think we lost some leverage, but I think that we’re going to get something within the next few weeks. And if we don’t ... man, you’re going to have a lot of heartbroken kids – a lot of kids who truly believe in this country and truly consider this to be their home, and the country’s failing them.”