Washington – Dozens of immigrant youths from Connecticut and their allies marched on the White House Tuesday, hoping to persuade President Donald Trump to continue a program that shields them from deportation.
The president was not home, at least not his home in Washington, D.C., but at Trump Tower on Tuesday.
That did not deter more than 1,200 marchers who chanted in English and Spanish for the president to ignore about a dozen state attorneys general who want an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that gives undocumented children brought to this country by their parents a chance for provisional legal status and a work permit.
The attorneys general, led by Ken Paxton of Texas, successfully sued to stop the Obama administration from extending that program to the parents of children who are either American citizens or lawful permanent residents. Now they are threatening to sue to end the DACA program if it is not repealed by Sept. 5.
A repeal would put about 10,000 Connecticut youths in danger of deportation.
The march was peaceful and seemed well organized under the watchful eye of the Secret Service and the Metropolitan D.C. Police Department. But several marchers, including Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., staged a sit-in in front of the White House and chose to get arrested. Gutiérrez, a fierce immigrant advocate, has been arrested several times at similar demonstrations.
To DACA opponents, the program is a symbol of Obama’s” lawlessness” and led directly to the surge of undocumented immigrants.
To DACA supporters, the immigrant youth, who call themselves “Dreamers,” are outstanding members of their communities who have been brought up as Americans and are strangers to their homelands. Trump, a hardliner on immigration, has expressed sympathy for the youths. But his administration has not indicated what it will do, and the clock is ticking.
“We don’t know anything yet, said Camila Bortolleto, an activist with CT Students for a Dream. “We are here to let (Trump) know we support DACA and want him to support it too.”
She added, “With this president, everything is very uncertain.”
Bortolleto, 29, was born in Brazil and came to the United States with her parents and sister when she was 9 years old.
She traveled to Washington, D.C., on a bus from her hometown of Danbury with dozens of other immigrant youths, including Angelica Idrovo, a regional organizer for CT Students for a Dream.
Idrovo, 21, was brought by her parents to the United States when she was 12 years old. But they arrived in this country a year too late for Idrovo to qualify for DACA. To qualify, a youth must have been in the United States on June 15, 2008.
“I’m here supporting the Dreamers,” Idrovo said. “Unfortunately, I’m not eligible for the program. I’m undocumented.”
Still, Idrovo’s job is to help those who are eligible to apply.
Supporting the kids
Tuesday marked the five-year anniversary of the program former President Obama put in place because of frustration that Congress was unable to approve a comprehensive immigration bill.
To qualify for DACA, an applicant must have been under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, and have arrived in the United States before his or her 16th birthday.
He or she also must currently be in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, or be an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or U.S. Armed Forces. Those with felony convictions, a “significant” misdemeanor or three other misdemeanors are disqualified from the program, and applicants must reapply for DACA status after two years.
Under the program, more than 780,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children received a work permit and protection from potential deportation. About 10,000 youth are eligible for the program in Connecticut, and 5,000 already are enrolled in it.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, joined by 19 others, including Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, have written Trump urging him to refuse the request from Texas and the other states seeking to rescind DACA.
But to opponents of DACA, such as Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., a hard-line immigration think tank, Obama abused his executive authority in setting up the program.
“It’s time to end DACA,” Krikorian said in a recent op-ed. “Adults who were brought here illegally by their parents at very young ages (toddlers, not teenagers) are indeed good candidates for amnesty – they’ve grown up here and formed their identities as Americans. But it’s Congress that makes laws, not the president…”
Last month, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the 2017 Dream Act, legislation that would offer a path to citizenship for immigrant youth.
Clarissa Martínez, a lobbyist for the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), watched the DACA supporters march around the White House on Tuesday chanting “Trump, escucha, estamos en la lucha,” or Trump, listen we’re in the fight,” and “We’re here to stay.”
As far as congressional approval of a bill that would protect the Dreamers, Martínez said “it’s hard to say” the legislation would be approved in the GOP-controlled Congress.
Patrick Carolan of Stratford, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, was among about 100 people from Connecticut who participated in the march, boarding a bus with other DACA supporters in Hartford.
“My parents immigrated from Ireland in the 1950s,” Carolan said. “I feel all people should be welcomed, not turned away.”