Democrats seeking an immigration deal with Republicans and President Donald Trump are facing resistance from immigrant activists who are rejecting any compromise that would tighten border security and demanding more extensive legislation to protect illegal immigrants from deportation.
Despite Democratic leaders' declared commitment to help so-called Dreamers, illegal immigrants brought to the United States as minors, they are catching sustained flak from immigration activists for their willingness to compromise with Trump, the New York Times reports.
After the Trump administration last month rescinded former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provided certain legal protections to Dreamers, Trump expressed interest in working with Democrats to enshrine the program into law.
That law would be the Dream Act, which would provide legal status to about 800,000 individuals brought to the U.S. before adulthood. But Dreamers themselves do not trust Democrats to work out a satisfactory deal with Trump, according to the Times.
"I don't think someone who is literally throwing rocks at you and demonizing you can have credibility at the table to say they want to engage," said Janet Murguía, president of UnidosUS, formerly the National Council of La Raza. She added that she cringed at the thought of Democrats working with Trump.
Many activists also find it unacceptable that other illegal immigrants who are not Dreamers may face deportation under a legislative deal.
"We are going to do whatever it takes to push both parties to pursue what we are demanding," said Cristina Jiménez, executive director of United We Dream. "We don't want a situation where my brother, who has DACA, will have relief from deportation, and we will have more enforcement and more ICE agents who end up going after my mom and my dad."
Democrats, meanwhile, have described the difficulty of satisfying these activists while maintaining a level of support for border security acceptable to the majority of Americans. Former Obama pollster Cornell Belcher said that Democrats have to "thread a fine needle" because Americans by and large "feel as though their borders need to be more secure."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) exemplifies the conflict roiling Democrats on this issue. She has expressed support for illegal immigrants who brought their children to the U.S. but admitted that Democrats do not have the power to push through a full amnesty package, although she hopes to block border security measures in the Dream Act.
"We are determined to get Republicans votes to pass the clean Dream Act," Pelosi said. "Is it possible to pass a bill without some border security? Well, we'll have to see."
Pelosi faced a vociferous protest from Dreamers a few weeks ago, when activists shouted down her speech and called her a "liar" who helped create a "deportation machine." Her partner in negotiation with Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), has also received criticism for his willingness to work with the president.
"I think Senator Schumer crumbles under pressure just so he can deliver on something," said Cesar Adrian Vargas, an immigrant-rights advocate and a DACA recipient.
This issue has also caused divisions among different members of the Democratic voter coalition, posing a challenge for party leaders. At the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual conference last month, radio host Kathleen Wells questioned Democrats' position on immigration for its effects on job prospects for black Americans.
Rep. Karen Bass (D., Calif.) responded by saying blacks and Latinos must not be "divided and pitted against each other."