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After Congress ends shutdown, immigration activists turn up the heat on Colorado lawmakers
Michael Bennet says deal to end shutdown provides ‘pathway toward a legislative debate’ on young immigrants
WASHINGTON — The federal government is on track to reopen, but that doesn’t mean the political pressure is off U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner of Colorado.
Several activist groups took aim at the two lawmakers after they voted to end a three-day government shutdown that many advocates saw as their best chance to force action on immigration reform — particularly for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants sometimes called Dreamers, who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
“A number of Democrats and Republicans stood with Dreamers and did not back down today,” Nicole Melaku, executive director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said in a statement. “I am deeply disappointed and outraged that Senator Gardner and Senator Bennet were not among those legislators.”
Between Bennet and Gardner, however, Bennet is much more likely to feel the political heat.
Like most other Senate Democrats, Bennet voted last week to derail a spending bill to try to gain leverage in immigration talks — a move that led to the brief shutdown. (Gardner, a Republican, voted for the measure.)
Bennet and several of his Democratic colleagues reversed course Monday, however, and supported a short-term deal that funds the government through Feb. 8 — putting him at odds with the more progressive wing of the party.
“Our government made a promise to our Dreamers, and it is long past time that we kept that promise,” said U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who voted against the measure.
In return for the support from most Senate Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to hold a vote soon on young immigrants who face deportation.
“We have a pathway toward a legislative debate at least about this — which we did not have before we went into the weekend,” Bennet said in an interview. It is “not a tremendously improved situation, but it’s modestly improved.”
Much of the debate revolves around an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that shields from deportation immigrants who illegally moved to the U.S. when they were young. There are roughly 700,000 DACA recipients nationwide, including about 16,000 in Colorado.
President Donald Trump announced last year that he would end the DACA program in March, prompting activists to lean on lawmakers, and especially Democrats, to develop a legislative fix.
Bennet, who has tried for weeks to craft an immigration compromise with five other senators, including Gardner, said the goal is to write a bill that could pass the Republican-controlled Senate.
“We need to figure out whether there is a piece of legislation that can get 60 votes in the Senate,” he said.
Gardner, who had been working with Bennet and four other senators earlier this month on an immigration compromise, said in a statement Monday that the shutdown was “forced by Senate Democrats” but that he still hoped DACA could be saved.
“I wanted a bipartisan solution,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fix many other remaining issues before us, including DACA, and to restore responsibility in Congress.”
Even if such an effort is successful, the measure still will have to pass the House — which is far from certain.
After the Senate in 2013 overwhelmingly passed a broad immigration package, the House failed to even consider the bill.
If a similar situation plays out next month, Congress once again could be dealing with the possibility of a government shutdown.
Among Colorado’s House lawmakers, Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Arvada joined Monday with the state’s four Republicans in backing a short-term spending bill and and an end to the government shutdown. It was opposed by Democrats Diana DeGette and Jared Polis.Content originally published by The Denver Post on January 23, 2018.