Three days after meeting with 13 members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, President Trump took to the airwaves last Saturday to offer a deal for undocumented immigrants who are protected by former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order and Temporary Protected Status recipients.
In exchange for $5.6 billion to fund border security that would include a wall, Trump proposed an additional three years of protection for 700,000 of the 1.8 million so-called “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — and for TPS holders, those who came to this country to escape natural disasters or war. Trump has promised to end the partial government shutdown, the longest in the country’s history, if he receives the funding.
It was the first time that members of the Problem Solvers Caucus — 24 Democratic and 24 Republican members of the House of Representatives — met with the president in an effort to persuade him to reopen the government. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove, is the group’s vice chairman.
During the meeting, Suozzi said, Democrats aligned themselves with their party’s leadership, arguing that the government needed to be open before any negotiations could move forward on border security.
Trump spoke for 15 to 20 minutes, Suozzi said, repeating what he has said publicly about the necessity of a border wall. Asked if he thought Trump’s weekend announcement was influenced by the meeting with the Problem Solvers’ seven Democrats and six Republicans, Suozzi paused. “It may have had an impact, but we didn’t discuss [DACA and TPS] specifically,” he said. “The government employees are going to get paid anyway — why not put them back to work? This is nonsensical.”
The government can’t be shut down any time the president is upset with Congress, Suozzi said, adding, “This is not a banana republic.”
He was adamant that he would not accept the deal that Trump offered. Suozzi instead wants a permanent solution for DACA and TPS recipients. “It is so unfair to them that they were safe until the president undid their protection,” he said. “We need to solve this once and for all.”
Nelson Melgar, of Glen Cove, the leader of the North Shore Hispanic Civic Association, agreed. “I am a DACA recipient, and I don’t want more DACA,” Melgar said, noting that he works full time, serves his community and has a family in the U.S.
Melgar, 28, was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child. The son of a coffee bean farmer and a cleaning woman, he was born in Honduras. When he arrived in Glen Cove at age 13, he spoke no English. He eventually mastered the language, graduated with honors from Glen Cove High School and earned a degree from Hunter College. He now works in the compliance department of a heating and cooling company in Manhattan. Suozzi invited him to the State of the Union address in Washington in 2018.
“I want a permanent solution,” Melgar said. “Trading my status for a symbol of division is dehumanizing, and this is unbecoming of a president of the United States of America.”
He said that Trump’s “ludicrous” offer didn’t surprise him. “The president is like a thief who steals something valuable from you and wants to trade it for something else you have,” he said.
Suozzi said that speaking for himself, and not the Democratic Party, he supports adding 200 miles of a physical structure on the border. “But that has to be married to improvements in technology, radar, better ports of entry and more custom border officials,” he said. “We need to spend as much money on immigration judges, humanitarian aid, radar and drones as the money for the wall.”
And, Suozzi said, all TPS and DACA recipients must be protected. Many have been here a long time, worked hard and never engaged in criminal activities, he reasoned.
He has an idea that he believes would help support the cost of border security improvements and protection for TPS and DACA recipients — fees to be paid by them.
As for ending the shutdown, Suozzi said that elected leaders want it to end. “I think the president, Nancy [Pelosi], Chuck [Schumer] are all ready to negotiate,” Suozzi said. “But the president is using simplistic language — wall, wall, wall — and Pelosi is saying, ‘Not one penny,’ the cancellation of the trip to Afghanistan and the talk of canceling the State of the Union. It’s all just gotten too personal.”
Suozzi said he worries that some federal employees who continue to work might cause dangerous conditions. He cited air traffic controllers as an example. “They’re dealing with very intense security issues while they’re worrying about how they’re going to pay their bills, or what they’ll do if their car breaks down — how they’ll pay to have it fixed,” he said. “I know of someone who had to sell his car to pay his bills. The president is a big businessman. This just doesn’t make sense.”
Melgar doesn’t know any federal workers, he said, but he has many friends who were working on obtaining their citizenship before the shutdown. “Their citizenship is stalled,” he said. “One woman’s residency card expired, and she was supposed to have her provisional card by the beginning of the year, but now she’s in limbo.”
“These are people’s lives we’re talking about,” Melgar said. “It’s high time Trump realizes the importance of his office.”