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DREAM Act Co-Sponsor Will Risk Government Shutdown For DACA Fix

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We heard Mitch McConnell mention wanting to work with Democrats on DACA. That stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The Obama-era program allows many undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to remain here. Again, President Trump plans to end DACA in March unless Congress acts.

Earlier I spoke with Congressman Pete Aguilar, a Democrat from California. He's one of the original cosponsors of a bipartisan DREAM Act which would put these protections into law. Welcome to the program.

PETE AGUILAR: Thanks for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Democrats had promised not to support a government spending bill unless it includes DACA protections. Here's House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi earlier this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: I stand by that statement. We will not leave here without a DACA fix.

SHAPIRO: And yet now a short-term funding measure will pass with Democratic votes without addressing DACA. Immigration activists say your party caved. The group United We Dream called this a vote to deport immigrant youth. How do you respond to that?

AGUILAR: Well, we don't want a delay. We want to fix this issue. We want to do it as quickly as we can. The bottom line is this. Every day we delay, hundreds of people are at risk from the president's order. This is a crisis that the president created. It's up to Congress to fix it. And every day, 122 individuals lose out on their ability to continue through the DACA status. So it's our charge and responsibility in order to get this done.

SHAPIRO: And yet this is the moment that Democrats had leverage to either force a shutdown or force a vote on DACA. And immigration activists say the Democrats blinked.

AGUILAR: Well, I'll be voting no. And I encourage my colleagues to do the same. You know, we made a commitment that we would work to get this done. We will work to get this done each and every step of the way. There are going to be more deadlines and more opportunities in the future. Should this chance go by, I will represent my communities and be a strong no vote on the CR today because it doesn't solve this problem.

SHAPIRO: The program officially expires on March 5, but thousands of people have already been losing their protection since President Trump announced in September that he was ending the program. What advice do you have for those young people?

AGUILAR: Stay strong. Continue to work with us in order to get this done. We have their back. We will continue. As a member of the Hispanic Caucus, we have been out front in advocating for these young people to make sure that they have the protections to continue. But keep in mind, you know, what I've cosponsored with the DREAM Act you know, it includes those DACA individuals as well as those DACA-eligible individuals who never signed up because they didn't have the money or because they didn't want to give their information to the government.

So our responsibility is to fix this. We will continue each and every step of the way, each and every day to make progress, at times working with our Republican colleagues who agree with us on this issue in order to solve this.

SHAPIRO: Republicans say that this will have to be part of a bigger package of immigration measures which will include stricter enforcement, perhaps including a border wall. How much increased immigration enforcement are you willing to swallow in order to get a deal?

AGUILAR: Look; I think it's important to have conversations like you articulated with our Republican colleagues. We do not have a majority in the House of Representatives. Our responsibility is to try to count to a majority in order to get this done. Democrats haven't shied away from border security, and in fact we've passed some measures in the past. So you know, our responsibility is to make sure that some of these silly requests that the president and the administration have put forward don't move forward. But if there are reasonable places in order to meet Republicans, we're willing to do that.

SHAPIRO: Do you consider a border wall silly?

AGUILAR: You know, I think it's a waste of taxpayer resources in many ways to build a ocean-to-ocean border wall. Yeah, I do. So you know, there are opportunities. And if there are funding ways to repair and replace some pieces, you know, that's another conversation.

SHAPIRO: How much of a price do you think Democrats will pay if this does not get done?

AGUILAR: You know, we're going to get this done. I'm not going to, you know, deal in hypotheticals if this doesn't. You know, we want to get this done at the first available moment, whether that is today on the on the CR, whether that is in the next couple weeks when government hits a sequestration deadline as well as this CR could potentially expire. We will use every ounce of oxygen and leverage in order to make sure that we are advocating for our communities and making sure that we pass the DREAM Act.

SHAPIRO: Congressman Pete Aguilar, Democrat of California, thanks for your time.

AGUILAR: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.