Graham West, 1/26/2018 [Archive]

The False Choice Between the Dreamers and the Military

The False Choice Between the Dreamers and the Military

By Graham F. West


While it is a pleasant surprise that last weekend's shutdown was resolved so quickly, there is hardly time for a sigh of relief. In just a few short weeks, the latest continuing resolution will run out - leaving the government without funds once more.

Before that happens, it's critical to establish that Republicans presented a fundamentally false choice in last weekend's battle: that between the DREAMers and our military.

The DREAMers are Americans in all but name. The term comes from the DREAM Act, a years-old legislative effort to protect a group of people who were brought to the United States as children - that is, not by their choice. Thanks to an Obama-era program called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), DREAMers were able to apply for a sort of temporary citizenship contingent on high standards of academic and career achievement as well as law-abiding behavior.

These 800,000 men and women are woven into communities across the nation, many of them now having children who are Americans. Hundreds of DREAMers serve in our military, and still more work in local government, philanthropy, public safety, and every other profession. They represent no economic or security threat to our nation - in fact, they benefit us all in both ways and more.

Unfortunately, they are now at risk because last September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded DACA, their only legal protection. DACA is set to phase out officially by March, and with President Trump's draconian Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chomping at the bit to expel more people from the country, their futures are in a terrifying legal limbo.

This is part of the reason for last week's shutdown: Democrats refused to authorize funding without a permanent fix for the DREAMers. The Republican Party, which controls both chambers of Congress and the White House, could not pass a bill alone due to a split between immigration hardliners and moderates. Naturally then, the Democrats argued that any bipartisan budget deal must take into account both parties' priorities, including protection for the DREAMers.

The Republicans - most loudly President Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, whose ending of DACA and inability to control his own members, respectively, precipitated the crisis in the first place - chose a less honest portrayal of the problem. Time and again, they accused Senate Democrats of 'playing politics' with funding for our military and, by extension, our national security.

This is partly spurious because the Department of Defense does not completely shut down even when the government does. Worldwide U.S. military operations continue, and many (though not all) employees are deemed 'essential' and protected from furlough. There are however consequences for military and DoD civilian pay - namely that it stops during the shutdown and only arrives later as backpay, a burden for those living paycheck to paycheck.

So the meat of the Republican attack was not just that Democrats were leaving the nation vulnerable, but that they were willing to hose the troops for a bunch of illegal immigrants too. Except that it was actually the Republican Party who kept the troops from being paid in the first place.

After the funding clock ran out last Friday night, Missouri's Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill put forth a bill to ensure that military members would keep getting paid. Such legislation was proposed and passed with flying, bipartisan colors during the last shutdown in 2013. Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (a Republican, of Kentucky) refused to even allow a vote on the measure.

There is publicly available video from the Senate floor of the Republican Party refusing to ensure pay for our military members - yet they still had the gall to attack Democrats for days afterwards as hostile to national security. And what's more, based on President Trump's recent tweets lumping in the word "military" with discussions of immigration and border security, it will likely be the same attack line next time around.

Thankfully, the American people know better than to believe this lie. And with support for DACA and the DREAMers at an all-time high, they also know better than to fund the deportation of good people who have known no country but the one we share for their whole lives. If the government heads for shutdown once more, the Democratic Party must stand firm against these bad-faith arguments by the very people who are creating the problem - and that means soundly rejecting the Republicans' false choice between the DREAMers and the military.

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Copyright 2018 Graham F. West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at gwest@trumancnp.org.

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