Democratic Voters Are Skeptical Of Any Immigration Deal With Trump

Sep 21, 2017
Originally published on September 22, 2017 7:29 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It seems like President Trump and Democrats have pulled off the impossible twice this month - they've actually worked together. First, there was the deal to avoid a government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. And then, Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi announced that the president would continue the DACA program, which allows immigrants who came into the U.S. illegally as children to stay.

Well, Chuck and Nancy, as President Trump calls them, may be happy to strike a deal, but Democratic voters are wary. NPR's Don Gonyea has been talking to some in Brooklyn and Queens and right outside Trump Tower. He's here. Hey, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

GREENE: So you were spending time right on Senator Schumer's home turf of New York, right? Who are you talking to?

GONYEA: I was. You know, I bounced around the city for a few days. This is, of course, a very blue piece of turf politically. So I was getting reactions from Democrats and from progressive voices, a lot of immigrants, including some DREAMers, members of Congress, the New York City Council, advocates and activists - all trying to make sense out of where things stand now.

GREENE: And as they make sense, I mean, where are they? Do you - are they suspicious of working with the president on something like immigration, willing to entertain this?

GONYEA: Yes (laughter).

GREENE: Yes, suspicious. OK.

GONYEA: So you know that old line Ronald Reagan used when negotiating with Mikhail Gorbachev, trust but verify?

GREENE: Of course.

GONYEA: Well, they are nowhere near that yet when it comes to President Trump and trusting him. In fact, let me take you to a park just a very short distance from Trump Tower in New York, day before yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

GONYEA: You're listening to immigrant rights activists and some elected officials, including members of Congress, also some of the DREAMers.

ANTONIO ALARCON: (Over loudspeaker) So today, we're here to demand that Congress must pass a legislative solution...

GONYEA: That's one of those DREAMers, 23-year-old Antonio Alarcon, addressing the crowd. His message he's speaking through the bullhorn is that it's wrong to use the DREAMers as a bargaining chip in negotiations over tougher border security because those tougher laws would negatively affect DREAMers' families and others. Here he is again.

ALARCON: (Over loudspeaker) We want to make sure that our families are being protected as well and not only the DREAMers.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) We are the DREAMers.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) We are the DREAMers.

GONYEA: Then came a march down Fifth Avenue, just three blocks to Trump Tower. About a dozen of the marchers, including Democratic Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Luis Gutierrez and Raul Grijalva, sat on the street in an act of civil disobedience.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: (Over loudspeaker) Since you have refused to leave the roadway, you will be placed under arrest on the charge of disorderly conduct.

GONYEA: All three of them and some others - about a dozen in all - were arrested. Now, earlier that morning, I talked to Congressman Espaillat. He represents New York. I asked him about Democrats cutting deals with Trump on issues like this.

ADRIANO ESPAILLAT: I first want to say that I'm thankful for the efforts of both our Leader Pelosi and Senator Schumer to have a dialogue with the president.

GONYEA: But he, too, says it's wrong to tie the DREAMers' status to broader border security. The issues should be dealt with on its own, he says, and on its own merits.

ESPAILLAT: We want a clean vote, an isolated Dream Act vote that will be guarantee the 800,000 young people the ability to stay here in the United States legally.

GREENE: OK, so a Democratic congressman there, Don, it sounds like not philosophically opposed to working with a Republican president, more pragmatic. I mean, is that something you heard?

GONYEA: Well, I heard some of that but not a lot. Mostly, I heard real skepticism. The young man we heard moments ago on the bullhorn, Antonio Alarcon, he's been in the U.S. since he was 10. Now he's about to graduate from college. I asked him about this deal or this agreement or whatever you want to call it between Trump, Schumer and Pelosi. He just shook his head and laughed.

ALARCON: I laugh because, you know, they keep saying that they will protect the DREAMers, that we'll be the ones fighting for the DREAMers. But at the end of the day, they are meeting with someone who has been saying a lot of bad things about immigrants and making deals with them, right?

GONYEA: And he says Trump can change his mind in a minute, so you can't trust him. Now, I also went to a place called Atlas: DIY in Brooklyn. It's an organization that works with young immigrants from many different situations and backgrounds as far as their legal status goes. Rebecca McBride is a staff lawyer there. When I asked her about the DACA arrangement Pelosi and Schumer announced last week, she says the key date to remember was actually the one a week earlier, September 5, when the Trump administration announced DACA would end in six months.

REBECCA MCBRIDE: You know, after 12 o'clock noon on September 5, there was like a darkness weighing in the air at the office. So I don't think that's been lifted by these dinner conversations.

GONYEA: Now to one more voice, another DREAMer who, not long after DACA was put in place, was part of a small group of affected individuals who actually met with President Obama back then. Her name is Angie Kim. She's from South Korea and came to the U.S. when she was 9 years old. She's 34 now. She says, one thing that really frustrates her is that the human aspect gets lost in the debates over policy. I spoke to her at a community meeting in a small basement in a Brooklyn neighborhood.

ANGIE KIM: I think, as a DACA recipient, it's also sad to see your life being juggled around by a politician. It's a little bit dehumanizing and degrading.

GREENE: One of the voices brought to us from New York by NPR's Don Gonyea, who is still in our studio. Don, you know, the focus there on the human element of this. I just think, you know, you have President Trump saying he is going to work to keep DACA in place. If people don't believe him and don't trust him, what do these people think will happen to the DREAMers in this country?

GONYEA: They do not make any predictions at this point based on what we've seen over the last year-plus, going back to the campaign and the kind of rhetoric we heard from the president when he was a candidate and into his presidency as well. But they also feel the need to keep the pressure on both parties. And they do point to, as far as the DREAMers go, polls that overwhelmingly show that people don't think the DREAMers should be deported.

But, again, that doesn't mean this comes up for the kind of clean vote that they want in Congress. Again, they can't predict what will come from a Republican-controlled White House and a Republican Congress even with the poll numbers. And then, if you look at immigration more broadly, it gets even more difficult for them.

GREENE: Speaking with NPR's Don Gonyea, who spent time listening to Democratic voices in the city of New York. Don, thanks a lot. We really appreciate it.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.