Video and Livestream by Ford Fischer
Article and Photos by Alejandro Alvarez
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was originally set to expire on March 5, though a series of court orders effectively muddied the Trump administration’s original timetable. Despite a less imminent threat, Dreamers – undocumented young people granted provisional protection under DACA – were banking on Congress finding a more permanent solution rather than be trapped in a perpetual game of political chess.
It’s now March 5, and there is no solution in sight. For hundreds of Dreamers, it was off to the Capitol to voice their frustration and resolve.
As a candidate, Donald Trump often told supporters about his desire to sunset a plan enacted by Barack Obama through executive order. He preferred border security and denounced protections for Dreamers as “amnesty,” echoing a sentiment held by some of the more conservative members of Congress. Though as president – particularly recently – Trump seems to have pivoted more toward sympathizing with DACA recipients and blaming Democrats for their plight, who shut down the government this January in an effort to pressure House Republicans into some sort of fix.
Activists at Democratic Party HQ: “If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep.”
But two months later, that shutdown gamble seems to have fallen flat. Upon ending the shutdown, leading immigrant youth group United We Dream expressed “outrage” over Senate Democrats having thrown in the towel too early.
That discontent was still palpable on Monday morning as a group of Dreamers sat-in on the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters on Capitol Hill. They accused the blue team of being “false allies” in their push for a definitive DACA solution.
Dressed as elderly persons to symbolize, per the event’s Facebook invite, “waiting over 17 years for the Dream Act to pass,” about one dozen pro-DACA protesters marched into the DNC’s lobby. They were quickly ushered by security into an empty conference room where they spoke to the few cameras following them.
“How many more decades will my immigrant community have to fight for full equality,” said one young protester with a white wig and a cane. “Will you continue to delay our right to be equal? I am here to say it loud and clear: Democrats, you need to start taking action.”
They were affiliated with the Seed Project, a youth-led branch of pro-immigration group Movimiento Cosecha that recently completed a 15-day, 250-mile march from New York City to Washington.
After moving outside to briefly occupy a neighboring intersection, protesters upped the ante by blockading the DNC’s main entrance as they shared their stories and vented their frustration with the Democratic party.
“It’s not fair that every two years I have to reapply to this program and live with anxiety for two to three months, wondering if I’m going to be able to continue to build my life in this country,” said Maria Duarte, who arrived from Mexico as a child and whose work permit under DACA is set to expire in the coming months. “I don’t know if I’m going to go visit my parents one day and they won’t be there because they’re liable for deportation.”
Duarte dressed in “Hello Kitty” pajamas, held a teddy bear and held a pacifier to symbolize the fact that she was brought into the United States as a young child.
Some immigrant activists introduced themselves as card-carrying Democrats. They announced their intent to boycott their own party by withdrawing their registration until a satisfactory DACA solution comes to fruition – despite the approaching midterm elections.
There were no arrests. Washington police kept watch from a distance, and the building itself appeared largely empty save for security. Three people wearing DNC identification badges joined the sit-in at the entrance after hearing Duarte speak. They declined to be interviewed for this story.
Nearby on the National Mall, United We Dream and other immigrant groups from across the country embarked on a two-mile march to the Capitol, followed by a civil disobedience action aimed at pressuring Congress to act.
Their march – numbering just short of 1,000 per organizers – instead opted to blame Congress as a whole rather than singling out either party. Chants and signs were generally aimed at solidarity with Dreamers instead of calling out politicians by name – though House Speaker Paul Ryan received a shoutout when the group yelled “Ryan, show yourself” on arrival at the Capitol. CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin later joined Muslim and Jewish faith leaders at a sit-in on Ryan’s office where they were subsequently arrested.
Dreamers and their supporters capped off their march by setting paper flowers on the east Capitol lawn spelling out the word “unafraid.” After a brief program featuring statements of support from activists including Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour, a smaller group of young protesters split off to partake in United We Dream’s latest civil disobedience action.
About 50 people were arrested sitting-in at the intersection of New Jersey Avenue and Independence Avenue for well over an hour.
Several people shackled themselves with orange chains, shutting down one of Washington’s busiest roadways as Capitol Police struggled to untangle them.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom, we have nothing to lose but our chains,” arrestees chanted in a call-and-response with other protesters herded to either side of the road by law enforcement.
Civil disobedience livestream:
United We Dream’s large-scale arrest action for a DREAM Act saw hundreds detained on the steps of the Senate building last December. As with previous civil disobedience events, police led protesters into a bus to be processed and cited off-site.
Exact details on charges are unclear. Participants in the December arrest action were released later that day on a $50 “post-and-forfeit” for protesting in an unpermitted area.
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