WASHINGTON – Arizona DREAMers joined other advocates on Capitol Hill Wednesday as Democrats called for a quick vote on a “clean” DREAM Act, which would keep many of the protections that could be lost if DACA is revoked.
The event came one day after the Trump administration announced plans to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program over the next six months and urged Congress to act on a replacement.
Democrats took up the challenge Wednesday, calling on the Republican majorities in the House and Senate to allow votes on the DREAM Act by the end of this month.
House Democrats followed the morning’s news conference with a parade of dozens of members who lined up on the floor of the House to read the name of a DREAMer from their districts and repeat the call for a vote.
For young immigrants like Ana Galaviz, 18, the news has been largely negative for the past week. But the Tucson resident took some hope from the event Wednesday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and DREAMers from around the country.
“I don’t want DACA back, I want the DREAM Act,” Galaviz said after the event. “I want something that leads to citizenship, something that doesn’t deport us, something that will give me the peace of mind that I’ve never had in this country.”
— Hispanic Caucus (@HispanicCaucus) September 6, 2017
Democrats took to the floor of the House to highlight the plight of DREAMers and call for a DREAM Act vote. (Video courtesy Hispanic Caucus)
Galaviz and others at Wednesday’s event are currently protected from deportation by DACA – an Obama-era program that defers deportation for immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children.
Those immigrants have to apply for the program, pay a fee and meet several other criteria – including having no criminal record and being in school or the military – before they can get coverage, which lasts two years and can be renewed. Besides deferring deportation, the program also gives recipients authorization to hold a job.
But President Donald Trump had campaigned on a pledge to do away with DACA, part of his get-tough immigration platform. He said the program, enacted by President Barack Obama through executive order after Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, was an unconstitutional overreach by the president.
Trump’s pledge resulted in the announcement Tuesday that the Department of Homeland Security would no longer accept DACA applications and that renewal applications would only be accepted until March – at which time the program would end if Congress does not act to replace it before then.
That has left the 800,000 DACA recipients in the U.S. – 28,000 of them in Arizona – worried that they could face deportation next year.
That threat brought Tucson resident Fernando Najera to Washington this week to advocate for deportation protection for himself and his parents, the “original DREAMers” who currently have minimal labor rights and access to healthcare.
Najera, who was brought to the U.S. in 2001 and raised in Tucson, is currently a political science and law student at the University of Arizona. He said at Wednesday’s Democratic event that he is keeping faith that “goodness will prevail,” and said he plans to fast for the rest of this week to protest the administration’s “hateful” decision.
“A few days of me not eating food is nothing compared to what my parents sacrificed for me to be here,” said Najera, adding that DACA was “not a pathway to citizenship and it is not a system that will protect my parents … it needs fixing.”
Galaviz said she surprised by the number of Democratic lawmakers who came out Wednesday, but still worries that it might be just another of many “empty promises.”
“I just want this so bad, but I understand this isn’t just for me it’s for my parents as well,” she said. “They had a dream to watch their children and family get better, not live in poverty, not live in violence and just thinking about what we’ve worked so hard to accomplish is right around the corner … I just can’t wait to get to the finish line and see something come of this.”
Najera said he is optimistic – but also realistic about the pace of change in Washington.
Lawmakers “have proven that their ability to pass legislation is minimal so I’m not exactly convinced, but I do like the efforts that Democrats have been making,” he said. “I do see the bipartisan efforts, but we do need to see results and that’s when I’ll be content.”