theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

‘Dreamers’ despair as Obama, Democrats abandon immigration activists

The heady sense of victory immigrant rights activists had last

 year after President Obama announced his deportation

 amnesty has faded in recent weeks as the advocates sense

 they’ve lost ground among the very Democratic leaders they

 were counting on to deliver at the national and state levels.
The latest blow came over the weekend in New York,

 where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has scrapped plans for a state

-level Dream Act granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants

 as part of the budget — spawning a hunger strike from

 young illegal immigrants who expected him to come through.
Nationally, meanwhile, Mr. Obama is taking fire after his

 immigration service earlier this month deported a Mennonite

 pastor with American citizen children who had been living

 without authorization for years, but who came to agents’

 attention because of a drunken driving conviction from the


Activists said that deportation broke the rules Mr. Obama

 himself laid out in November, when he said he wanted to

 kick out “felons, not families.”
“It goes to who really are our champions. That’s disillusioning

 a lot of the electorate,” said Cesar Vargas, co-director of the

 Dream Action Coalition. “Democrats would like to make

 people believe that Republicans have a Latino problem.

 Well, Democrats are definitely facing a Latino problem that

 many of them aren’t even aware of.”
The relationship between the president and immigrant rights

 advocates has always been rocky, dating back to his vote as

 a senator to build the border fence, and then extending to

 his failure to make good on his campaign promise to tackle

 immigration reform his first year in office.
Mr. Obama had appeared to smooth things over in

 November when he bypassed Congress and announced

 executive actions to grant a temporary deportation amnesty

 and work permits to millions of immigrants in the country

 illegally. At the same time Mr. Obama also announced new

 enforcement priorities that were supposed to lower the 

chances of deportation for millions of other illegal immigrants

 — though they would not be eligible for the work permits

 included in his broader amnesty.
Buoyed by that success, and by polls that suggest the public

 is increasingly accepting of legalizing illegal immigrants,

 activists turned to states, pressing for legislation to grant in-

state tuition to illegal immigrants, known as the Dream Act.
New York was a particular target, with a Democratic governor

 in Mr. Cuomo vowing to use the state budget to make it

 happen this year.

In the span of a few weeks, however, Mr. Obama’s

 immigration policy was halted by a federal judge, his agents 

deported Pastor Max Villatoro — the Mennonite cleric who

 was sent to his native Honduras on March 20 — and Mr.

 Cuomo failed to secure passage of the Dream Act in New

“I would definitely agree that there’s some deep

 disillusionment and disappointment,” said Manuel Castro,

 immigration campaign coordinator for the New York

 Immigration Coalition.
Mr. Castro said they will have to wait for more details about

 the New York negotiations to come out before knowing

 where the agreement broke down — though early press

 reports said the Assembly speaker, a Democrat, squelched

 a deal that would have coupled the Dream Act to an 

education tax credit.
But the loss of the Dream Act goes to the heart of the

 immigration movement, where so-called Dreamers, illegal

 immigrants brought to the country as children, are viewed as

 the most sympathetic figures in the debate.
Denise Vivar, one of the students on a hunger strike to

 protest the governor’s retreat, said her last meal was March

 24. Since then she’s been subsisting on water while working

 at her cashier’s job and attending classes — where she’s in 

the middle of midterm exams.
She said they were excited when Mr. Cuomo put the Dream

 Act in his budget, and realized he ran into political opposition

 from Republicans in the legislature. But she said activists

 would have liked to see him push harder to win.
“It’s always, ‘Yeah, we care about Dreamers, and we want

 them to be fully part of U.S. society,’ but when it comes to

 the real deal, they always end up abandoning us,” she said.
Even as New York was stumbling over the Dream Act,

 several other states are facing debates over whether to

 repeal their own state-level laws.
The legislature in Texas, which was the first state to adopt in-

state tuition rates for illegal immigrants in a bill signed by

 then-Gov. Rick Perry, is poised for a committee-level debate

 on repeal next week, and Kansas’s legislature has also 

toyed with a repeal.
At the national level, activists are eyeing Mr. Obama’s

 deportation statistics and questioning how he’ll carry out

 removals even as the court cases continue.
Mr. Vargas called the deportation of Mr. Villatoro “a promise

 broken,” and said advocates will be watching the rhetoric in 

the emerging 2016 campaign for clues to see which party is

 making a claim for votes within his community.

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