Immigration activist: Democrats let us down again

Senators say McConnell willing to deal on DACA
Senators say McConnell willing to deal on DACA

    JUST WATCHED

    Senators say McConnell willing to deal on DACA

MUST WATCH

Senators say McConnell willing to deal on DACA 01:33

(CNN)A little more than 48 hours after the start of a government shutdown conceived of as a tool to advance DACA talks, word began to spread early Monday that Democrats were losing their nerve. By lunchtime, the ploy was effectively over, the fate of the Dreamers deferred — again.

For Erika Andiola, an immigration activist and DACA recipient who, in 2016, worked as a national press secretary for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, the current impasse is both painfully familiar and uniquely upsetting.
Andiola was 11 years old when she entered the US from Mexico with her mother and siblings. For her entire adult life and then some, the prospect of the Dream Act, first introduced in 2001, has hung just out of reach. Now, with President Donald Trump's decision to rescind DACA, her future is again in the hands of lawmakers who, for nearly two decades, have haggled and debated but were never quite willing to guarantee it.
When we spoke on Monday evening, Andiola questioned Democrats' courage, an old concern, Republicans' honesty and good faith, and promised another wave of action, and another after that, as time runs out on DACA -- and the estimated 700,000 people whose fate could be decided in the coming weeks.
    Here is our conversation, lightly edited and condensed.
    Krieg: How did you find out on Monday that Democrats were shutting down their shutdown -- and what was your first reaction?
    Andiola: I was really angry.
    I started hearing that there were rumors and couple of people, who are more insider advocates, who were told by (Senate Minority Leader Chuck) Schumer staffers that he was going to cave in, basically. They didn't obviously say it that way, but there was a pretty clear message to advocates and it got the message to us that he was going to do this.
    It's hard not to be angry. It's been such a long time, so many years of struggling to get the Dream Act and we always get the same response. In 2010, we were so close, we were 5 votes away from passing the Dream Act in the Senate. It passed the House. And it was really ready for President Obama to sign it and then the (Democratic) Party, because of moderates pushing the party in the other direction -- they ended not being able to pass the bill.
    So, it's frustrating. Even understanding that it's Republicans who have been the ones really targeting our communities and really trying to pass anti-immigrant legislation through Trump. But the fact that Democrats can't stand up to that type of racism and white supremacy and then just cave in to these soft promises from (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell -- it's unacceptable and it's really angering to see.
    Krieg: Do you trust McConnell and Trump when they say that they do want to sort it out, in some way, that they want to get a deal to protect Dreamers?
    Andiola: No. I don't trust them. How can you trust them when they were the ones who ended the program and they have been the ones who, over and over again, have had the power? They basically have power over the (entire) government and they don't need Democrats to come to the table.
    If they wanted to pass the Dream Act, they would have passed it. So, I don't trust that McConnell is coming to the table with a real attempt to pass the Dream Act. I think he wants to get something, perhaps, on immigration that caters more to the president. It's disappointing to see, because the reason we were pushing so hard on this to be part of the spending bill was because we knew it was better to pass something through the spending bill. The spending bill wasn't going to be bombarded with amendments -- amendments that are going to be hurtful to our communities and push people like my mother and the rest of my siblings deeper into the shadows.
    If it passes through the spending bill, it's a lot easier to control all those different amendments that they are going to want to add on there. But it's just insane how both -- not only Schumer -- but (Senate Minority Whip) Dick Durbin just keep on believing the promises from McConnell when McConnell, if he wanted, could have done this a long time ago.
    Krieg: As you just mentioned, Republicans control basically all of Washington. What do you say to people who would argue that this is really the best the Democrats can do?
    Andiola: Folks know how to do the math. They understand government, we understand that. But the current reality is that in order for (Republicans) to get a funding bill, they need Democrats. They need them especially in the Senate. That's the reality and so it's important that right now Democrats are able to use that leverage.
    It's frustrating to me because when Republicans want to use any of their leverage, they'll do it. They'll do it for what they want. And they'll blame Democrats. They'll do whatever, but they'll fight for what they want. For me, this (shutdown) was a huge, huge signal that Democrats were ready to actually fight for something -- and not just against Trump. And not just use Dreamers over and over again as a way to get votes in the Latino community, in the places where they need us. That they were actually going to stand up for us. But it is just... not what ended up happening. It's unfortunate.
    Krieg: People talk a lot about March 5 as the DACA deadline, and even some Democrats are asking, Why are we shutting down the government in January when the deadline isn't until March? Do you think there's a lack of urgency of Democrats or a lack of understanding that it doesn't all happen at once?
    Andiola: There's always been a lack of urgency.
    The urgency has (only) been with a handful of Democrats. It's unfortunate, like I said, because when it comes to campaigning, they don't hesitate. But when it comes down to really using all of their leverage to really get something like this passed, they just won't come through.
    Absolutely, I think that they do not feel the urgency and it makes me so angry, so frustrated when I hear them say, 'Oh, it's OK. We can continue to push the deadline more and more. Maybe we can get a DACA fix in February. Maybe we can get it in March.' But they never acknowledge that right now there are already people losing their DACA. And they also don't acknowledge that there is a deportation machine right now that has been strengthened. The Obama deportation machine basically was handed over to Trump, was strengthened, and now is being used to target Dreamers.
    That's just a reality that people don't understand and, perhaps, you don't feel the pain unless you are a Dreamer or someone who loves someone in my situation. But we need to make sure that people in power right now feel that pain. And that's what the movement right is going to continue to do -- to grow and get stronger and we're going to come back and give a big message to Schumer and the rest of the Democratic Party that they do need to grow a spine.
    Krieg: What comes next for you -- for activists -- during this kind of weird, brief period, post-shutdown but before the next deadline?
    Andiola: For us, people in the movement and for people who really support Dreamers, we were able to see how easily they caved in, and so right now I believe that our movement can get stronger, that we can get a lot more support to make sure that Democrats, at this moment, if there's no Dream Act in the bill, that they don't cave in again. We're going to continue to pressure Schumer and pressure the Democratic Party as a whole.
    The next step is to continue pushing. We're not giving up on this ask for Democrats to hold the line. The (long-term) funding bill hasn't passed, that's just the reality, and we're going to keep on pressuring Democrats, especially right now when people are able to see how basically spineless they're being, caving in so easily to McConnell and a handful of moderate Democrats.
    The reality of the White House is that they have white supremacists who are in control right now. The more and more that people trust the White House is going to come up with the answer, the more and more time passes, and the more Dreamers get deported. There's a character in the White House who doesn't want us to get anything: Stephen Miller. He's going to continue to push for (a deal) not to happen.
    So this is a battle and I really hope that Democrats are going to be able to use their leverage and their tools to be able to win that battle.