Dreamers demand protections as Senate Democrats cave on budget deal

U.S. Capitol police arrest immigrants on Wednesday, February 7, 2018 after they engage in an act of civil disobedience in the Senate building. (Photo: Make the Road NY)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Immigrants and advocates were arrested in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday while urging lawmakers to support a “clean” Dream Act.

The act of civil disobedience came hours after some people gave energetic speeches at a Lutheran church two blocks from the U.S. Capitol Wednesday. As part of the “National Day of Action Against Trump’s White Supremacy” event, several organizations converged on the nation’s capitol to engage lawmakers on a clean Dream Act — a bill that would include funding for permanent protections for the undocumented population without added immigration enforcement measures that could put the immigrant population at risk of deportation proceedings.

“Why are we here?” asked Cristina Jimenez, the co-founder and executive director of United We Dream, as she stood at the podium on Wednesday afternoon. The crowd chanted back, “Dream Act now!”

“We are the people that the Trump administration is attacking every single day,” Jimenez said, laying into the president for his anti-immigrant policies that have given broad authority to immigration enforcement officers to detain immigrants. Last September, President Donald Trump phased out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted temporary work authorization and deportation relief. The program covers nearly 800,000 immigrants who are now at risk of losing their statuses and as a result could be at risk of deportation. A federal judge has since allowed many DACA recipients to renew their statuses, but no new applicants will be accepted.

During the press conference at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, human rights advocates passionately — and at times in tears — defended immigrants, painting them as relatives, friends, neighbors, and contributing members of their community.

Missael Garcia, a DACA recipient, holds up a photo of his daughter. (Photo: Esther Y. Lee)

Missael Garcia, a 27-year-old immigrant, took to the stage to say that he had fallen out of his DACA status, which puts him at risk of deportation. He has since been able to send in a renewal application. In a speech directed at White House Chief of Staff John Kelly — who the day before had characterized certain DACA-eligible immigrants who failed to apply for the program as “lazy” — Garcia said he had good reason for not having been able to renew his status until now.

“Last year, I became a father,” Garcia said, choking back tears while holding a black-and-white photo of his daughter in his right hand. “She [just] turned four months. This is the reason for why I’m here today.”

“I am not lazy — I am not lazy,” Garcia said, his voice pitching upwards. “Being a father is not a lazy job. But let me tell you today that it’s the best job I’ve had in my life.”

Garcia expressed concern that without permanent solutions beyond his DACA extensions, he may not be in the same country as his daughter to watch her grow up.

“This little girl does not need me in her life for the next two years — she will need me for the rest of her life,” Garcia added. “And I will make sure she’s okay. I will be there for her no matter what. I am willing to do anything in my power to stay here with her.”

Antonio Alarcon, a DACA recipient from New York, said he came to the country because his parents wanted a better future for him. He sharply decried Kelly’s description of “lazy” immigrants, saying that he will soon become the first in his family to graduate from college.

“That sounds lazy, huh?” Alarcon asked, with the activist audience laughing in response. Alarcon called on lawmakers to understand that any kind of legislative solution would need to include his parents, the “original Dreamers” who came to the country for better opportunities.

Garcia and Alarcon were among many speakers who took to the church podium Wednesday across several hours to talk about the need to pass a legislative solution for immigrants. They shared the stage of other venerable human rights advocates like Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez, who co-chair the Women’s March, and Ady Barkan of the Center for Popular Democracy. Three members of Congress — Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Ro Khanna (D-CA) — also spoke about how immigrants and diversity greatly add to their districts.

Later on Wednesday, activists took to the Senate building and formed an organized chain, which led to many arrests.

As the day of action progressed, those activists were likely unaware that within a short walk away, Senate lawmakers reportedly brokered a budget deal that did not include immigration protections as a way to avoid a government shutdown. But even as Senate lawmakers appear to disappoint activists with its budget deal, at least one House Democrat seemed to understand the plight of those activists. As of this writing, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has held the House floor for more than seven hours to force a floor vote on a bill for Dreamers.