DREAMers, immigrant youth, and allies took to the halls of Congress on Thursday morning with a simple demand: “We will not be silenced, and we want results.”
More than two months after the Trump administration’s decision to sunset the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, immigrants rights groups are fighting to secure a more certain future for the hundreds of thousands who relied on the Obama-era policy to seek education and support their families without fear of deportation. Amid a growing sense of urgency and continued inaction from Congress, they organized a day of protest on Capitol Hill to deliver a deadline for a solution to policy makers: this Christmas.
“Immigrant young people and our allies took a huge action today, they’ve told Congress we’re not going to wait anymore,” said Bruna Bouhid, a Washington-area DACA recipient and an activist working with the rally’s organizer, United We Dream. “We’ve been waiting two months since DACA was rescinded, and they have yet to act.”
Bouhid joined hundreds of other immigrant youth in flooding House and Senate office buildings calling for a swift revival of the long-debated Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM), a proposal that would grant legal status to undocumented youth and, eventually, clear a pathway to permanent residency. A common focus of immigration activists is a “clean” form of the DREAM Act, without amendments which might make its recipients vulnerable to sudden deportation or render them little more than “bargaining chips” for politicians with ulterior motives.
“If they were to bring it to a vote, we know for a fact the Republicans and Democrats would vote for it, so that’s why we’re here today,” said Bouhid. “We’re here to tell them, specifically Paul and Mitch: bring the DREAM Act to a vote. We need it before you guys go home for the holidays.”
“If you’re outraged at Trump for killing DACA, for fulfilling a sick white supremacist scheme to terrorize immigrant youth and their families,” read United We Dream’s invite to the event, “we invite YOU to join hundreds of Dream Defenders: immigrant youth, allies, business leaders, and people of faith are descending on the Capitol to resist Trump’s attacks on immigrants and to demand a clean Dream Act.”
On Thursday morning, protesters gathered in the atrium of the Hart Senate office building, silently at first, glancing up at level-upon-level of protesters who had made their way to every floor, patiently waiting for the go-ahead from organizers. At exactly 11:30 a.m., the room suddenly erupted into a overwhelming, boisterous chant of “undocumented, unafraid,” as activists unfurled large banners into the chamber demanding a DREAM Act, denouncing deportation, and bringing forward the December deadline.
The building was packed with protesters wearing identical orange “Clean DREAM Act Now” shirts. Joining them were students participating in a mass walkout from nine Washington-area schools, including universities, as well as hundreds of youth from across the country in what United We Dream said was part of a nationwide campaign in solidarity with DREAMers.
Not everyone there was a DREAMer. Alik Schir, a student in the Washington, D.C. area, said he was sympathetic to the cause while gleefully waving the orange shirt he had been handed. “I know what it’s like to be the odd one out,” Schir said, “so I’m standing here to make sure that DREAMers and immigrants know that we stand with them and that we’re fighting for them so they won’t be deported.”
After about ten minutes of chanting in the building, a signal came to stop, lest risk arrest due to strict Capitol rules against disruptive protest. In a pre-planned act of civil disobedience, a small number of protesters kept chanting around a banner before being detained by Capitol Police. Rally-goers later announced their names via megaphone, praising them as heroes.
Flowing out from the Hart building, their call for a DREAM Act continued with a march to the Capitol in the hopes of coming face-to-face with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) himself. They crowded onto the sidewalk on Independence Avenue, demanding Ryan show himself. “Show your face, show your face,” they chanted as they passed the Rayburn building, rising into thunderous cheers and applause whenever they spotted a staffer waving or taking photos from their offices.
Ryan, who has sent mixed messages regarding a vote on a replacement for DACA, was the subject of frustration and anger among many attendees — some who jeered, shouting “coward” while below the Speaker’s balcony on the west end of the Capitol, where youth and DREAMers linked arms in a circle and held a speakout for DACA recipients before wrapping up.
“I am here because I have an expiration date, because I have a mother that works three jobs to support our family, because at one point I worked six jobs to pay for my education,” said one DREAMer. “I want to graduate, I want to make America great, I want to give back to my community, I want to give back to the country I love, to the country that I call home.”
“DACA, the DREAM Act, this is a human issue,” said another DREAMer, a student who had joined the Washington event from Pace University in New York. “We’re dealing with real lives. This is not about one, this about all. Paul Ryan, pass the Dream Act.”