‘Dreamers’ must be saved, but not by Democrats holding government hostage

Blackmail is a dirty business, even if it’s done for a noble cause. And these days, it’s hard to find a more noble cause than protecting the 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as kids and are now at risk of losing their legal protections from deportation.

For them, Sen. Kamala Harris of California signaled that she’s willing to risk shutting down the federal government. She shouldn’t act on that impulse.

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Democrats don’t have a lot of pull in the House, but in the Senate, where bipartisan support is needed to pass a spending bill to fund government agencies, they can withhold votes to get what they want. So some Democrats have followed suit, demanding that Republicans pass a bill to protect “Dreamers” from deportation and create a path to citizenship.

“These are incredible young people who are doing everything we hope and pray will epitomize the American dream,” Harris said on the Senate floor this week.

She’s right. President Donald Trump was wrong to upend the lives of these upstanding young people by phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Since then, thousands of protesters have marched on Washington, D.C., hoping to pressure Congress to save it.

And in California, business and civic leaders this week joined DACA recipients enrolled at Sacramento State in hopes of doing the same.

“I dreamed of becoming a pilot,” Sac State student Fatima Yesenia Diaz told The Bee, “and didn’t learn I was undocumented until the recruiter told me because of my status I wasn’t eligible.”

Diaz and her DACA peers shouldn’t have to twist in the wind. Congress should act quickly to come up with a deal before the end of the year. More than 30 House Republicans demanded as much in a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan earlier this week.

But using blackmail to force legislators to act isn’t wise and won’t work. Besides, there’s time to do things the right way. DACA doesn’t expire until March. And shuttering the government would have its consequences.

National parks would close. Passports would not get processed.

And then there’s the human toll, particularly in government towns such as Sacramento. Federal employees — there are about 250,000 in California — would get furloughed, as they did during the shutdown of 2013, when 800,000 were off work for about two weeks and another 1.3 million worked, but didn’t know when they’d get paid.

There’s also the question of whether such a tactic would play into Republicans’ hands. Trump has made no secret of his disdain for government in general, relentlessly downsizing it and refusing to fill many open positions. Who is to say he will even care if government offices remain empty for days on end?

For the moment, we’ve been given a reprieve from a shutdown. On Thursday, the House and Senate cobbled together enough votes for a short-term spending bill. But in two weeks, we could be back to Democrats threatening to withhold their votes for an end-of-the-year spending bill.

When the Republicans led the last government shutdown in an effort to cripple the Affordable Care Act, they took the political hit. In 2017, it’s harder to predict whether voters would be as upset. But the human toll of a shutdown would be severe.

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Blackmail is still blackmail. Democrats and Harris should be better than that.

— The Sacramento Bee

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