WASHINGTON - Undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children demonstrated in the halls of Congress Wednesday because of a Senate budget agreement that excluded them.
The Senate’s two-year budget deal kicked the immigration debate into next week, leaving the immigrants, known as Dreamers, in continued limbo.
Before their protests on Capitol Hill, hundreds of Dreamers convened at the Lutheran Church of Reformation in Northeast, Washington, where they vowed to fight on.
“We know that we can’t step back. It’s not an option for any of us,” Berenice Davila, a 19-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient from Texas, told VOA.
?Obama administration policy
DACA is an Obama administration policy established in 2012 that deferred deportation actions for some undocumented people who entered the U.S. as minors. The program granted them work permits for renewable two-year periods. The Trump administration rescinded the policy in 2017, creating a March 5 deadline for protections from deportation to end.
Davila was one of the voices during the National Day of Action for a Clean Dream Act that brought together more than 10 organizations from Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.
“All we ask is a permanent solution that does not harm anyone else in our community,” Davila said.
Her family, who overstayed their visas a “few years ago,” moved from Mexico when Davila was 3 years old.
“DACA absolutely changed everything about my life,” she said. “Without [DACA], I wouldn’t be able to enroll for dual credit classes (classes that earn high school and college credits) that I was completely qualified for.”
Next week for immigration
Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged to bring immigration up for debate soon.
With lawmakers’ attention focused on high-stakes negotiations securing a two-year spending agreement, debates on the future of DACA recipients must wait until next week.
“Our upcoming debate on DACA, border security and other issues will be a process that is fair to all sides,” McConnell said.
The White House has rejected a number of potential bipartisan Senate bills, while proposing its own four-point plan that provides a citizenship pathway for 1.8 million Dreamers in return for border security funding and an end to the diversity visa lottery and family reunification visa programs.
“We are hopeful that we will make a deal with Congress. Our goal is to get something done,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday.
But any bill negotiated in the Senate is likely to face a tough road to passage in the U.S. House of Representatives, where there is no guarantee that legislation will be brought to the House floor.
“We’ll see what path that legislation takes,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday. She has threatened to withhold Democratic votes from any budget deal that does not include a DACA fix.
In an eight-hour, filibuster-style speech on the House floor Wednesday, Pelosi read the stories of Dreamers, hoping they would “move the speaker of the House to give us a vote.”
DACA recipients’ stories
Tasneem Al-michael, another DACA recipient who was brought to the U.S. from Brunei when he was 9 months old, said he didn’t learn of his immigration status until he was 16.
“My high school was trying to send me on a trip to go perform in Carnegie Hall, and my parents were afraid that if I had gotten in a plane, I would be deported,” he said.
At 18, Al-michael said it is “absolutely untrue” Dreamers are “too afraid” or “lazy,” referring to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s recent critical remarks.
“I work two jobs. I also volunteer in these organizations, and I do whatever I can to help benefit my community,” Al-michael said. “We all go the extra mile just to prove how much we would like to give to the United States.”
Ryan sets conditions
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he will only bring an immigration bill to the floor on the condition it can be signed into law by Trump. But the president’s immigration plan faces difficulties from both sides of the aisle.
House conservatives reject the citizenship pathway for Dreamers, calling it amnesty that encourages law-breakers, while House Democrats decry Trump’s plans to curtail family-based immigration and end the diversity visa lottery.
“Either the president does not understand the immigration laws he’s trying to change, or he is intentionally misrepresenting them to the public in order to pass his own agenda,” Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu said Tuesday.