SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Both of California’s Democratic U.S. senators voted Thursday against a stopgap spending measure to keep the federal government open because it didn’t include protections for young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
It was a long-held stance for Sen. Kamala Harris, but one that Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced just hours before the vote, after weeks of pressure from immigrant groups and her 2018 U.S. Senate rival.
State Senate leader Kevin de Leon, who is running against her, had held a news conference calling her “AWOL” on the matter.
President Donald Trump earlier this year halted a program protecting about 800,000 young immigrants from deportation, and Congress has until March to take action to renew it or pass a different bill. Roughly 200,000 participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program live in California.
“I’ve talked with them, I’ve met them, I understand their plight and it breaks my heart,” Feinstein said in a statement announcing her opposition to the spending bill. “To allow these young people to suffer is tragic.”
Feinstein is also resisting the spending measure because it lacks funding for a children’s health insurance program that serves roughly 9 million low-income kids.
Congress passed the spending bill Thursday, just before a Friday deadline to avert a government shutdown. The Senate voted 66-32, with most Democrats opposing it. The votes by Feinstein and Harris will keep a spotlight on calls to pass the Dream Act and children’s health insurance funding early next year.
“We’re starting to see the benefits of our community coming together and putting that pressure on our representatives here in California,” said Jorge Herrera of the “Our Dream” campaign, one of several groups that organized protests outside congressional offices.
De Leon, of Los Angeles, has seized on the issue to criticize Feinstein in his bid to unseat her. Feinstein has been in office since 1992.
He doubled down Thursday on his criticism of Feinstein, pointing to two young immigrant activists who were arrested outside one of her California offices this week.
“It’s unconscionable that it took arresting Dreamer advocates to finally stand with them and against the Trump Admin,” de Leon tweeted.
Luis Serrano-Taha, a spokesman for the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, said while both Feinstein and de Leon are saying the right things, his group is looking toward what they do going forward.
“We hope that he’s also being honest and not just using this for elections,” Serrano-Taha said of de Leon, after calling Feinstein “very absent” on the issue.