Almost 200 arrested at Capitol Hill as advocates urge Congress to protect immigrants

An average of 8,500 work permits are expected to expire each business week beginning on March 6, 2018.

Advocates with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice were in Washington, D.C. on December 7, 2017 for a rally urging Congress to act on permanent protections for immigrants. CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee
Advocates with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice were in Washington, D.C. on December 7, 2017 for a rally urging Congress to act on permanent protections for immigrants. CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly 200 immigrant advocates were arrested in a civil disobedience protest Wednesday after demonstrators descended on the nation’s capitol to urge Congress to pass legislation providing permanent protections for immigrants at imminent risk of deportation.

Sparked by federal inaction on a legislative solution to legalize some undocumented immigrants, the “Defend our Immigrant Communities” Day of Action comprised of various rallies and protests throughout the country. In Washington, D.C., which saw the biggest showing of hundreds of demonstrators, advocates visited congressional offices to ask for support for DREAM Act, a federal bill that would grant an eventual pathway to citizenship for 2.1 million undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

Faith leaders, immigrants, and allies were among the 200 or so arrested people at the Capitol after calling on lawmakers to protected undocumented youths.

“We have brought 30 faith leaders from across the country, from all different traditions, together in a call to action for Congress to pass the Dream Act now,” Church World Service Reverend Noel Andersen said, according to a press statement. “We’re willing to risk arrest, we’re willing to call out to those people in power that we can no longer wait–no more family separation, no more deportation. Pass the Dream Act now. Keep TPS. Keep our families protected. Keep our communities united.”

Since 2012, the federal government has granted temporary work authorization and deportation relief in two-year increments to almost 800,000 undocumented immigrants through the the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In early September, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama-era program, throwing the fate of these DREAMers to Congress to find a permanent fix by March 2018. In its rescission announcement, the White House announced one final two-year renewal for DREAMers whose DACA status expires after March 5, 2018. An average of 8,500 work permits are expected to expire each business week beginning on March 6, 2018, according to a FWD.us report.

In their call to action, advocates are asking lawmakers to pass the DREAM Act of 2017, which grants legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the country and are able to prove that they have been in the United States for at least four years before the bill’s enactment, were younger than 18 years old when they entered the country, have passed criminal and security background checks, and fulfilled educational requirements, among other qualifications. On Tuesday, 33 Republican lawmakers (including the non-voting Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico) released a letter supporting the passage of the DREAM Act by the end of the year. The bill would also help beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, which granted similar protections to people fleeing violence, war, and conditions to which they can’t return.

Immigrant advocates WERE IN WASHINGTON, D.C. ON DECEMBER 7, 2017 FOR A RALLY URGING CONGRESS TO ACT ON PERMANENT PROTECTIONS FOR IMMIGRANTS. (CREDIT: ESTHER Y. LEE)
Immigrant advocates WERE IN WASHINGTON, D.C. ON DECEMBER 7, 2017 FOR A RALLY URGING CONGRESS TO ACT ON PERMANENT PROTECTIONS FOR IMMIGRANTS. (CREDIT: ESTHER Y. LEE)

Prior to the civil disobedience action, advocates attended a rally with speakers including Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and an 11-year-old U.S. citizen girl whose mother is undocumented. Jovani, a 20-year-old immigrant was at the D.C. rally to fight for permanent deportation relief and work authorization as part of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative through which he is a beneficiary.

“Without DACA, I’d have no job,” Jovani, who asked for ThinkProgress to withhold his last name, said. Brought to the country at the age of four from Mexico, Jovani and his family settled in Maryland where he is now attending a college that extends in-state tuition to people like him.

“We wanted to live a better life and that’s why they brought me here as a little kid,” Jovani added.

Jovani now works in the service industry, but with a looming expiration date for his work authorization card in the near distant, he doesn’t know how he will be able to continue to work. He’s also been worried about telling his employer about potentially having to quit.

Sean Price, an immigrant advocate from Tuscaloosa, Alabama who traveled with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, came to the rally because he argued that immigrants form the “backbone of our labor.” He was there on behalf of friends and family who are struggling to cope with the Trump administration’s harsh immigration agenda. Without their jobs, his loved ones are now worried about what to do without their jobs.

“It creates an immense amount of emotional labor especially given the effort that they placed in creating that future, the risks that they take,” Price said.

In the weeks leading up to the rally, Democrats drew a hard line in the sand, saying they would not provide necessary votes for any year-end, must-pass spending bills if there aren’t provisions for DREAMers. Without crucial Democrat votes, the move could effectively shut down the government. On Thursday, House Democrats sent a letter to Republican letters in support of keeping the government open while working to pass “national priorities” like protections for immigrants.

Advocates also held events in other cities across the country this week, urging lawmakers in district offices to support the DREAM Act. Families in Austin, Texas gathered outside the Texas Governor’s Mansion to sing Christmas carols as a way to remind Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) to act with kindness and generosity towards immigrants.