Advocates were counting on Democrats to force Republicans to guarantee a protected future for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children during negotiations surrounding the US government shutdown.
But the American government was open on Tuesday morning after a three-day closure without any concrete protections for those often called “Dreamers”.
The closure began Friday at midnight after Republicans and Democrats couldn’t come to an agreement on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals programme (DACA), the Obama-era policy that protected Dreamers from deportation.
President Donald Trump ended DACA in September, saying he would reinstate protections in exchange for funding for a wall on the US-Mexico border and increased militarisation of immigration enforcement authorities – two election campaign promises.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, agreed to pass a short-term funding bill to keep the government open until February 8 after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to discuss continued protections for DACA recipients.
“We are furious to see that Democrats were the first ones to cave. We thought they had finally grown a backbone,” Paul Quinonez, a Dreamer and activists from Washington state, told Al Jazeera. “Instead, we saw them deliver a victory to the Republican Party in exchange for vague promises.”
Many expected Democrats to remain firm until Republicans made concessions on DACA.
The last US government shutdown occurred in 2013 when Republicans used it as a means to garner concessions on US debt and funding for former President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare legislation, popularly called Obamacare.
That shutdown lasted for two weeks as Republicans stuck to their guns, even though a majority of the US population held a negative opinion of the move.
Democrats lost control of both houses of the US Congress and the presidency in 2016, but saw surprise victories in historically Republican parts of the country in special elections in 2017, thanks to anti-Trump campaigns.
A major aspect has been to position themselves as defenders of immigrants and refugees, groups the Trump administration has targeted.
Trump and some Republicans have called the shutdown a “failure” for Democrats.
It seems Trump and some Dreamers agree. Democrats reopening the government with nothing more than promises from Republican leaders will cost them in upcoming midterm elections, Quinonez said.
The three-day negotiation period was a missed opportunity, wherein “Democrats let a historic moment go to waste in exchange for more time,” he added.
Juan Belman, an activist and organiser in Austin, Texas, a city that has seen increased raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency since Trump assumed office last year, told Al Jazeera many of his friends “have expressed their anger” towards Democrats.
Immigrant support – especially from Latin Americans – for Democrats has been strong in recent elections. Belman explained this strategy should be reconsidered.
“Seeing how easily the Democrats were swayed clearly shows that we cannot rely on one single party to protect the immigrant community,” Belman said.
Some Republicans have shown a willingness to pass a version of the DREAM Act. In September, shortly after Trump rescinded DACA, three Senators introduced the Succeed Act, a version more “friendly” to Republicans.
The Succeed Act offered a 15-year path to citizenship and featured provisions similar to those of DACA.
Other provisions blocked beneficiaries from sponsoring relatives to come to the US, which the Trump administration calls “chain migration” and the president is firmly against.
Still, immigrant advocates still see a possibility for a version of the DREAM Act in the near future.
“We’re obviously disappointed that the negotiations didn’t produce a permanent fix for Dreamers but remain optimistic,” Robert Painter of American Gateways, an immigrant and refugee support organisation based in central Texas, told Al Jazeera.
Painter said American Gateways strongly opposes any bill that funds a border wall or blocks “family-based” migration, but hopes to see a DREAM Act passed in the coming weeks.
It’s still possible for these protections to be renewed for the roughly 800,000 DACA recipients at least once more under a December court decision to block the end of the programme until pending cases play out in court.
The Trump administration is already appealing the decision.
American Gateways is focused on “making sure that every client we have who is eligible to renew” does so.
The left-leaning Center for American Progress estimates about 17,000 Dreamers have already lost protections since Trump announced the end of DACA in September, mostly because of confusion over how to renew.
Quinonez estimated a further 2,000 Dreamers will lose protection in the coming weeks, regardless of the court decision.
Without DACA protections, he expects deportations to begin soon.
“All Senators who voted to reopen the government without protections for Dreamers effectively voted to fund our deportations,” Quinonez said.