Braving the frigid cold, members of Congress and an alliance of Jewish and Latinx community leaders gathered on the east lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday afternoon in a continuing push for a DREAM Act.
For Latinx activists, widespread rumors of workplace raids by federal immigration agents, coupled with surprise arrests and deportations in New York and Detroit, have only acted to further underscore the urgency for a definitive solution in the form of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act — commonly known as a DREAM Act.
As Democrats and Republicans debate how to balance a permanent solution for DREAMers with proposals for increased border security, DREAMers are frequenting Capitol Hill offices with daily sit-ins, die-ins, and speak-outs in the offices of high-profile Democratic and Republican members of Congress including those of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Their demands: if this week’s spending bill fails to include a provision for a DREAM Act, vote against it — even if it means shutting down the government.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) program began in 2012 and has served as a legal lifeline for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who live, work, and study in the United States. In September, the Trump administration announced that, after March 5, 2018, DACA permits will begin to expire. A legal battle is now gearing up as the Justice Department intends to appeal a California federal judge’s recent order effectively freezing the administration’s timeline for dismantling DACA.
“We are on the right side of history, we are on the right side of the issue — we have to help those who don’t understand that,” said National LULAC President Roger Rocha Jr., who compared widespread false narratives about undocumented immigrants in the Trump era to anti-Muslim fervor which spread in the days following the September 11 attacks. “You all are the next generation, you are the best and brightest, we cannot afford to lose individuals such as yourselves,” he added. “The future of this country solely relies on you.”
Joining the League of United Latin American Citizens at the press conference were a number of Jewish community groups, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. Over 50 Jewish faith leaders had huddled in the nearby Russell Senate office building that morning. They faced arrest through an act of civil disobedience in solidarity with the over 800,000 DREAMers whose future lies in limbo with the impending sunset of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“We stand here today with our Latino brothers and sisters because our values and our history demand it,” said Elana Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. “As Jews, we know what it’s like when we’re marginalized, deported, treated without compassion. We know what it’s like to be left behind, to be treated like a stranger, even in our own home. We stand with our immigrant neighbors, with our Latino brothers and sisters, shoulder-to-shoulder and eye-to-eye.”
“I think what our brothers and sisters can teach us is that there’s a moral imperative involved in this fight for a legislative solution for DREAMers,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). “History teaches that we cannot allow the attitude, the bigotry, the insensitivity to keep bursting from the mouth of our president and translated by no action by the majorities here in Congress,” imploring other members of Congress to refrain from policies that “enable, coddle, and sustain that kind of rhetoric and reason.”
Monica Sibri, a DACA recipient from Brooklyn, told her fellow activists that the imminent end of the program has plunged her family into abject fear and uncertainty about the future. Her mother and father are undocumented immigrants, she said, and her younger brother is a natural born citizen. Sibri, and hundreds of thousands of others like her, fear that the end of DACA and the lack of a prompt solution could split her family apart without any warning.
“We’re constantly asking the question of who is going to take care of my little brother if we’re deported,” Sibri said. “What is going to happen if my little brother is deported before my parents, because even he is an issue for this administration. Although he was born here, he has the legal documents and he has the opportunity to say that he is a citizen.”
Latinx advocacy groups including LULAC, United We Dream, and CASA have actions planned daily for the rest of the week aimed at making their voices hear in the halls of the Capitol and engaging with Congress — but ultimately, Sibri said, the onus for a permanent solution is on the senators and representatives who will head to vote sometime later this week.
“They have the power to create change,” Sibri added. “They’re creating all this conversation and making us think they don’t have the power, but we know that they do. Clearly, we’re telling them that we care.” Her final words, to New York Senator Chuck Schumer: “You have the power to change our lives.”