74 days. That’s all that stands between today and the deadline for lawmakers to pass relief legislation for the undocumented youth who have been shielded from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. When Trump canceled DACA on September 5, he gave Congress six months to come up with a solution for an immigrant population that knows no other home than the United States. However, he gave no indication about what would happen if Congress didn’t reach a decision. With the deadline quickly approaching, young immigrants and their supporters have risked arrest to hold a series of actions in Washington DC and across the country designed to pressure lawmakers to refuse to vote on a congressional spending budget that does not contain one of four versions of the Dream Act under consideration.
Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a DACA fix won’t come until next year, recipients of the programs and Dreamers worry that if no action is taken by the December 22 budget deadline, it’ll be too late when Congress returns from recess.
An estimated 800,000 people are impacted by DACA and the potential DREAM Act. But they’re not just looking out for themselves, they’re also urging lawmakers to pass a clean DREAM Act – that is, legislation that won’t benefit young undocumented immigrants at the expense of people like their parents or neighbors who made the decision to come into the United States.
Though DACA recipients should not be valued solely for their economic contributions, a Center for American Progress study found that passing a bipartisan Dream Act that puts eligible workers on a pathway to citizenship could add at least $281 billion to the US gross domestic product over a decade. Research also shows that a large number of Americans support DACA. A new CNN poll places that number at 83 percent of Americans and 67 percent of Republicans.
But so far, Congress has failed this group. Last week, seven Dreamers, including Erika Andiola, and one of their supporters were arrested for staging a sit-in at the Washington DC offices of Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Carlos Curbelo. The protesters believe Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was contacted about Andiola.
Their actions catapulted different forms of protest from other young immigrants. On December 20, some 1,000 immigrants from all over the country took part in a Day of Action organized by United We Dream at the US Capitol. The peaceful protesters took over the streets of DC to send a clear message. They staged a die-in inside the halls of Congress to “bring the crisis of uncertainty” to lawmakers.
And though chances of a bill passing by Friday are slim, they’re not giving up their fight. Today, activists took over the Capitol to let Congress know how their lack of urgency has hurt them.
Wanting to learn more about the activism that has taken place in Washington this week, we spoke to three participants to learn why they risked arrest, and possibly deportation, to fight for a clean Dream Act. Here’s what they had to say.
Karina Ruiz, 33
Karina’s fight for a clean Dream Act goes back to her time as a biochemistry student at Arizona State University. She dreamed of becoming a scientist or teacher but DACA recipients were not automatically eligible for in-state tuition benefits and relied on the state’s statutory provisions regarding immigrant eligibility for those benefits. This prolonged her studies drastically as she had to work to afford school.
This summer, the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned a 2015 decision by a trial court judge that granted DACA recipients state benefits.
Ruiz realized that until a clean Dream Act is passed other young immigrants with dreams of careers would remain in limbo. Instead of pursuing her career goals, she began working for the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, an immigrant-youth led organization, where she serves as president.
“This is important to me because if we don’t get a permanent solution for people like myself that means people like me are going to be separated from their family,” she says. “I have three US-born children. They’re my life. They’re the reason I wake up every day.”
Without a clean Dream Act, she said, children of young immigrants will also suffer.
Juan Navarro, 25
Juan was only 3 years old when his parents brought him to the United States from Mexico for medical reasons. His cerebral palsy diagnosis resulted in six surgeries and 12 years of therapy, but, he was able to walk by age 15. Knowing the impact, a clean Dream Act can have on other young immigrants was the reason Juan decided to take part in peaceful protest.
“A clean Dream Act is long overdue and should’ve been in place during (President Barack) Obama’s years when they had a Democratic House and Senate,” he says. “The urgency now is that since DACA is being rescinded, people are losing their status and not able to do the amazing things they are able to do.”
As one of the “older” Dreamer activists in Oregon, he has taken on the role of pseudo big brother to younger immigrants. He works as advocacy coordinator for Capaces Leadership Institute, which among many other initiatives, assists immigrants in gaining legal status. Juan also serves as member of the Oregon DACA Coalition.
As a DACA recipient, he was able to pay in-state tuition and graduate from Western Oregon University this spring.
Karen Reyes, 29
Karen grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and lived a typical American life until she discovered she was undocumented at 14 years old. She planned on going to the beach with friends, and her mother worried if she headed south she could face trouble without proper documentation.
DACA was implemented at the time she was pursuing her master’s degree. She was able to complete her studies and provide for her family while her mother fought cancer.
During Obama’s years, she feels the nation got close to passing a Dream Act but then got complacent.
Karen is a special education teacher in Austin, and was one of the activists who participated in the die-in in the tunnels of Congress on Wednesday. Though she had to lay on the floor and play dead, her heart was filled with joy and pride and tears formed as she realized she was part of a courageous act of solidarity within the immigrant community.
“I’m hoping we did disrupt their day because they’re disrupting our lives,” Karen says. “I hope they got a small glimpse of how this destruction causes chaos in our lives and that they know what it’s like to be undocumented in America. I want them to acknowledge we’re here to stay.”