While the Trump administration announced it’d be gradually axing the Obama-era DACA program, Washington immigration activists replied with a few shut downs of their own.
“If they think they’ll find scared Dreamers going back to the shadows, let me set the record straight – that won’t happen,” said Greisa Martinez, advocacy director at United We Dream, a youth-led immigration group and organizer of a number of marches and sit-ins across the country on Tuesday. Martinez was one of several DACA recipients who spoke to protesters and media at a press conference outside the White House, planned to overlap with the DACA announcement.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protects over 800,000 young adults from immediate deportation, many of them raised by undocumented parents, brought to the United States as children. While it stopped short of granting citizenship to its beneficiaries, called “Dreamers,” it provided them with the ability to stay without risk of deportation while granting them permission to work legally. In its current form, DACA lasted just over a year after a decade in legislative limbo. Under Trump’s vision put forward by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, it’ll (probably) be scrapped in six months unless Congress can come up with some sort of replacement.
When the announcement came down, the mood quickly turned from lively to dire. Though that move was anticipated well in advance, it still dealt an emotional blow to the people poised to be impacted the most. Several members of the crowd, some of them Dreamers themselves, were overcome by tears at the news that a program they depended on for work and education would suddenly be stripped away with a risk of future deportation. “He lied to us,” said the executive director of CASA, another immigration advocacy group, “he’s a person we can never trust. Because you know why? He’s a racist.”
Barely an hour later, they took their promise of continued resistance to the streets, drowning out traffic on Washington’s central avenue with chants of “we are the immigrants, the mighty, mighty immigrants,” and “whose America? Our America.” Sit-in tactics are relatively common in the nation’s capital, though prolonged occupations of major intersections are far less numerous. It was the action of choice for emboldened activists on Tuesday, who held two intersections on Pennsylvania Avenue in the vicinity of the Department of Justice for about an hour, before passing through the 12th Street tunnel for a sit-in at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in southwest Washington.
There were no arrests, and as the organizers had a permit for their demonstration, their marches and sit-ins were held without tension with police – even if they dad last longer than anticipated. Tuesday’s rally was the first of several similar actions in Washington around the cancellation of DACA, with more planned this weekend.