We need a clean Dream Act and justice for immigrant families

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AFT members joined throngs of undocumented immigrants, immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status and temporary protected status, and their thousands of allies, on Capitol Hill Dec. 6 to demand that Congress pass a "clean" Dream Act—that is, one that's unencumbered by reciprocal requirements such as funding a wall on the Mexican border or increasing enforcement—to provide a pathway to legal status for undocumented youth and immigrants.

"What makes America great is the people who are standing behind me," said AFT President Randi Weingarten, turning to the teachers, nurses and AFT leaders with her on the rally stage. "This is about Areli Zarate, who at age 8 escaped grinding poverty in Mexico and is now a high school teacher," she said. "Lee-Ann Graham, who was 14 years old when she moved to this country from Trinidad and Tobago, is now a paraprofessional in New York City. Jessica Esparza, whose parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was 11 years old and, thanks to DACA, is now a registered nurse."

Signs at the large DACA rally

"We are here for the 800,000 DACAmented students and now adults who have done nothing wrong, who came to this country because their parents wanted a dream, who did everything we asked them to do, and are now saving lives, teaching kids and growing our economy."

Weingarten, United Teachers of Dade (Fla.) President Karla Hernandez-Mats, Corpus Christi (Texas) AFT President Nancy Vera and other activists literally put their bodies on the line for the cause and were arrested at the steps of the U.S. Capitol for civil disobedience after the rally. They were later released but were charged and fined.

DACA gives undocumented people who arrived in this country as children temporary documentation so that they can work legally, attend college, get driver's licenses and otherwise participate in life in the United States without fear of deportation. Earlier this year, President Trump announced DACA would be discontinued unless Congress voted to extend it.

Weingarten with AFT members and activists

The immigrant community and its advocates are in a fierce fight to pass the Dream Act, which would provide a long-term solution for people with DACA eligibility. Currently, more than 11,000 immigrant youth have lost their DACA status and are at risk of deportation. Without congressional action, 1,600 immigrant youth will begin to lose their DACA protection and work authorization every single day beginning March 6, 2018. Rallies, protests, petitions and calls for Congress to pass the Dream Act are peaking now because DACA could be tied to the upcoming budget bill—legislation that must be passed by the end of the year in order to keep government services funded.

At the Wednesday rally, 11-year-old Jazmine Lopez tearfully pleaded for the Dream Act so her mother, who has DACA status, would not be deported. "My mommy is a Dreamer," she said, using the term for people with DACA status. "On Dec. 22 (the same day Congress will vote), she will not have her DACA status anymore and she will be at risk of a deportation. I am very terrified. I don't want to lose her."

Claudia Quinones, of United We Dream, defiantly announced she is "undocumented and unafraid," and that she would not be silenced. "Since Trump killed DACA, 1,102 young people have already lost their DACA and 122 lose it every single day. I am here with hundreds of United We Dream members from across the country to say that Congress must pass a clean Dream Act by the end of this year."

"This administration keeps pushing this anti-immigrant agenda," said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), pointing to the Muslim ban, the refugee ban, the end of TPS, and the three-month deadline, set in September, for DACA recipients to renew their status. Such a short deadline is impossible for many who cannot pull together both the paperwork and the $495 fee required for renewal. "They're trying to set us up for failure," said Harris. "But will we fail? No, we will not."

Some legislators have denied that DACA is an "emergency" worthy of a government shutdown—the result if lawmakers refuse to approve a budget bill that has no Dream Act in it—but Harris said otherwise. "When 700,000 Dreamers who go to our colleges, serve in our military and work in our Fortune 500 companies fear a midnight knock on their door that might tear them from their families, this is an emergency," she said. "When 122 Dreamers are losing DACA status every single day, 851 every week, this is an emergency."

Trump's DACA decision will be devastating for Dreamers, said Weingarten. "That is why we are standing here together to say we need a clean Dream Act right now."

Watch a video of the rally here.

[Virginia Myers]