By HELEN PARSHALL and ASHLEY CLARKE
WASHINGTON – More than two months after President Donald Trump said he was ending protections to children brought to the United States by undocumented immigrants, demonstrators on Thursday swamped a Senate building to pressure lawmakers to vote for a renewal of the program.
Hundreds of people wore orange t-shirts, passed out just before entering the Hart Senate Office Building, that read “Clean DREAM Act Now,” reflecting the goal to press for a permanent solution to the uncertainty of their immigration status in the United States.
Gustavo Minaya, one of the demonstrators, came from Baltimore, Maryland, for the day. Minaya arrived undocumented in the United States from Peru with his mother when he was just 5 years old.
“It was a two-month journey, and thankfully we survived and that, with the immigration reform of the 1980s, we had a path to citizenship,” Minaya said. “I’m very privileged because of that, and I know there’s people who don’t have that opportunity. That’s why I’m fighting for their human rights.”
The demonstrators gathered in droves to fill the atrium of the Hart building with the promise that immigrants are “here to stay,” unfurling banners from balconies and chanting loudly.
“I didn’t know this was happening but I’m just so excited about it. This is fantastic,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, as she stood in the atrium, raising her right fist in a show of solidarity. “Democracy is shouting right now. Keep fighting.”
Not far away, a group of Democratic lawmakers held a press conference about how vital those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are to the Nation’s armed forces and the rest of society.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Mechanicsville, Maryland, said he would continue to work with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Democratic caucus to bring the DREAM Act to the floor for a vote.
“As we approach Veterans Day, Congressional Democrats continue to stand with Dreamers, including those who serve our nation in uniform and who are critical to our national security,” Hoyer said in statement.
“Their patriotism and determination in the face of uncertainty, created by President Trump’s irresponsible order to end the DACA program, are inspiring,” the congressman said.
“Right now we have more than 800 Dreamers currently serving in the United States military who signed enlistment contracts and are waiting basic training,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said during the press conference.
“These brave men and women raised their hand to serve and lay down their lives if necessary,” the senator said. “This is the only country they know. If Congress fails to pass the Dream Act, these young people could be forced to leave the military and be placed at risk of being deported from a country they have volunteered to serve.”
“These are men and women who come to our shores to seek new opportunities, to become doctors, engineers, teachers and scientists,” said fellow Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who served in the military for more than 20 years. “Some of them even choose to risk their lives to protect our freedoms as members of our uniform services. And the sacrifices aren’t just admirable it’s heroic.”
Duckworth said that the U.S. can not afford to turn away “Dreamers” and the future of the military, economy, national security depends on them.
The demonstrations at Hart criticized President Donald Trump for rescinding DACA. Many of those gathered were students from the Washington metropolitan area. Some also arrived on buses from states as far away as New York and Florida.
“What the administration did by repealing DACA has pretty much affected all the youth that is here,” Jose Aguiluz said outside the Hart building as the demonstrators reassembled to march through the streets on Capitol Hill.
Aguiluz is a DACA recipient living in Silver Spring, Maryland, who arrived from Honduras when he was 15. He has worked across the state to support other undocumented immigrants, even before the DACA program even began under President Barack Obama in 2012.
“We’ve been living in fear, not knowing what’s going to happen, but this is what happens when people mobilize,” Aguiluz said. “We are very, very excited, and we are very pushy. You can feel the energy of the people. It was an unprecedented action that we took here.”
So far, no legislation has been scheduled for consideration in Congress.