U.S. ‘Dreamers’ unafraid to march
Undocumented students protest inside Senate building to raise awareness of plight
WASHINGTON— They ditched school and marched to Capitol Hill en masse, then filled four floors of balconies in the vast atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. Silent at first, fists raised in the air, they soon erupted into bellowing chants that echoed through the massive marbleclad room. “Dream Act. Dream Act.” “Si se puede. Si se puede.” The demonstration Thursday involving high school and college students from the Washington, D.C., region and beyond was the latest attempt by undocumented immigrants and their advocates to keep Congress focused on their plight.
In September, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he would kill the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants work permits and deportation protection to nearly 700,000 illegal immigrants brought there as children.
If Congress can’t pass legislation to replace the program, work permits will begin expiring in March.
Competing bills have been proposed to offer DACA recipients, known as “Dreamers,” a path to citizenship, and a group of Republican lawmakers held a news conference Thursday to urge action on that legislation this year. But the Republican leadership — currently consumed with plans to cut taxes — has said no vote is likely before January.
“It’s been two months since DACA has been rescinded, and we have no solution yet,” said Bruna Bouhid, communications manager for United We Dream, the organization that helped plan Thursday’s protest. “Immigrant youth are honestly fed up, and they are tired of waiting.”
Students wore orange shirts that said “Clean Dream Act,” a reference to legislation that would offer a path to citizenship without adding tough new anti-immigration measures. They came from local high schools and colleges.
Groups also travelled from states as far as Washington and Arkansas. Kristina Saccone, a spokesperson for D.C. Public Schools, said the protest was not a sanctioned school event and students who participated received unexcused early dismissals.
A U.S. Capitol Police officer used a megaphone to warn the crowd that it is illegal to demonstrate in the building.
“Stop chanting if you do not intend to be arrested,” the officer said.
Most people became quiet and raised their fists in the air, but a handful of protesters continued their refrain.
Eva Malecki, a spokesperson for U.S. Capitol Police, said 15 people were arrested, all of them were adults.
On Wednesday, Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security was asked about DACA recipients during her confirmation hearing.
Nielsen said participants in the program would not be an enforcement priority for Immigration and Customs Enforcement if Congress fails to act, an assurance that drew criticism from anti-immigration groups on social media.
She also told Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, one of the administration’s fiercest critics, that the government would not use personal information it has compiled through the program to track down individuals whose DACA permits expire and deport them.
No matter. The young protesters who came to the Senate a day later said they would not stop demonstrating until Congress passed firm legislation.
As they exited the Hart building Thursday, again with their fists raised, they chanted once again.
“Undocumented,” they yelled. “Unafraid.”
"Dreamers" in high school and college filled the halls and atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building during a protest Thursday in Washington.