In the hours after U.S. senators struck a deal to end the government shutdown Monday, scores gathered near the U.S. Capitol to protest what they saw as the Democrats’ decision to abandon the “dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children or overstayed their visas.
One by one, the demonstrators called out the names of Democrats who voted with Republicans to end the shutdown, shouting, “Shame!”
On Tuesday, a group of about 100 protesters gathered again, rallying in Upper Senate Park and then heading to lawmakers’ offices to demand the vote on immigration legislation that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vaguely promised.
Walter Barrientos, of the immigrant rights organization Make the Road New York, said his group and those aligned with it have sponsored actions in New York as well as in downtown Washington, holding rallies and vigils in Manhattan and at the home of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who led the shutdown effort but then backed down over the weekend.
“We are planning on being relentless in our pressure for the next two weeks,” Barrientos said. “We can’t allow him to fail us again.”
Since the Trump administration announced in September that it would phase out the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, immigrants and their advocates have protested, flooded congressional offices and been arrested in acts of civil disobedience, all in an effort to force a vote on legislation that would allow dreamers to stay legally in the United States.
Senate Democrats, led by Schumer, forced a government shutdown last week, refusing to support a last-minute spending bill if it did not include protections for dreamers.
But by Monday, after a weekend of Republican claims that Democrats had “prioritized illegal immigrants over American citizens,” senators from swing states were telling Schumer that their stance could hurt them, badly, in November’s midterm elections.
The Democrats then accepted a deal they had rejected Sunday — agreeing to reopen the government as long as McConnell said “it would be my intention” to consider immigration legislation in coming weeks.
There are multiple competing efforts in both chambers of Congress to determine what such legislation would say, however. And even if a bill allowing dreamers to stay passed the Senate, it could face an uphill battle in the more conservative House.
“Senators who voted today for the promise of a symbolic vote on the Dream Act are not resisting Trump — they are enablers,” Cristina Jiménez, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream, the nation’s largest immigrant-youth-led organization, said Monday. “Republicans played games too, holding the Dream Act hostage and pitted the safety of immigrant youth against children’s health care, proving their cruelty to the world.”
On Tuesday, about 50 immigrants’ rights advocates marched to the office of Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) to protest his vote to end the shutdown without ensuring DACA protections.
Demanding to see the senator, the group, which included constituents from Allentown, Reading and Philadelphia, shouted: “We did not come here to talk to the paintings!”
Adanjesus Marin of the organization Make the Road Pennsylvania said Casey and other Pennsylvania legislators depend on Latinos to stay in office. He said his group has actions planned “every single week” back home to voice their concerns, and will remember who stood with their community on Election Day.
“Casey can’t work without our vote,” he said. “He made us a promise and he has broken it.”
Yesenia Aguilar, a 30 year old DACA recipient from Reading, Pa., came to the rally with her 1 year old daughter Denali, who held a song that read “My mom is a dreamer.”
Though she’s not a protester by nature, she said she had to come to Washington this week. “I can’t let my shyness ... take over,” she said. “I want [a Dream Act]. I need it for my kids.”
A federal judge in California has temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s plans to end the program, which was serving about 690,000 young people when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced its demise.
Dreamers whose protections expire would lose their permission to reside and work legally in the United States and would be at risk of deportation.
“I feel let down,” Antonio Jauregui, 20, of Fresno, Calif., said outside the Capitol on Monday.
A political science student at Fresno City College, Jauregui migrated from Mexico with his grandfather when he was 5. He has few memories of his native country and has never visited. He lost his DACA protection late last year after missing an Oct. 5 deadline for a final renewal because of a postal delay.
Advocates excoriated Republicans for failing to broker a deal and vowed to continue lobbying until an agreement is reached.
“Last week, I was moved to tears of joy when Democrats stood up and fought for progressive values and for dreamers,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an advocacy organization. “Today, I am moved to tears of disappointment and anger that Democrats blinked.”