Dreamers urge members of Congress to fight for a fair DACA fix

DACA lunch full groupThe three members of Congress discussed a DACA fix over lunch with six Dreamers who live in the Boston area.

The lunch with Representatives Kennedy, Murphy and Swalwell is part of a nationwide Dreamer Dinners campaign led by America’s Voice.

BOSTON, October 16, 2017 – They came to the U.S. from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Ireland and Japan. Several are in college, but others are in the work force; at least one is a major breadwinner for his family. They all have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – but they’ll start falling off the rolls as soon as next spring.

All yearn for Congress to pass legislation to let them stay in the U.S. and become full-fledged Americans. But none is willing to accept any deal that saves them at the expense of their loved ones. 

That is the tough reality that six Dreamers discussed today with three members of Congress: Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D–MA), Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D–FL), and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–CA), over lunch at Davio’s in Chestnut Hill. The group was brought together by America’s Voice, which has been organizing “Dreamer Dinners” to connect elected officials with DACA recipients.

As part of a project called Future Forum, a group of 27 young House Democrats, chaired by Rep. Swalwell, have been traveling across the country to engage with Millennials on the issues they care most about. MIRA and the Irish International Immigration Center assembled the group of Dreamers to discuss how the repeal of DACA will affect them and their families, and how Congress might act to protect the 800,000 Dreamers from deportation.

The conversation was held behind closed doors, but after the event, the members of Congress and some of the Dreamers spoke to the media.

“For the Dreamers seated at the table with us today, pursuing our shared American dream has required immense struggle and sacrifice that few understand,” said Rep. Kennedy. “Bravely embracing the only home they have ever known, these students and young professionals represent the very best our country has to offer and are deeply committed to their communities and our Commonwealth. Guided by their stories, my colleagues and I will fight even harder to protect them and their 800,000 fellow Dreamers from President Trump’s dangerous policies.”

Rep. Murphy told the Dreamers about her own background as a refugee – her family fled Vietnam in a boat when she was 6 months old – and stressed the importance of “changing the narrative” about immigrants in the U.S., to once again value the diversity of talents that are drawn to this country. 

DACA pressAfter the lunch, some of the Dreamers and members of Congress spoke to reporters. From left: Rep. Swalwell, Rep. Kennedy and Rep. Murphy.

In a statement, Rep. Murphy described the Dreamers she had met as “remarkable young men and women,” adding: “They are patriotic Americans, they have studied and worked hard, and they have made vital contributions to our nation. They have done nothing wrong and, indeed, they have done everything right. In the wake of the President’s decision to end DACA administratively, Democrats and Republicans in Congress must step up and enact bipartisan legislation to ensure that Dreamers can remain here, in the country they call home.”

The Dreamers spoke frankly with the members of Congress about their frustration with the political debate over immigration and their own fate in particular.

Daishi Tanaka, co-director of Harvard Act on a Dream, explained that as a DACA recipient and Harvard University student, “many would see me as the ‘good immigrant.’ But every day I wake up and remember my hard-working parents who were painted as ‘bad immigrants’ and pushed to self-deport themselves last year. No matter how hard you work, live, or educate yourself, Americans will dehumanize you and legitimize the broken immigration system.”

A clean DREAM Act or DACA fix, Tanaka said, “is an urgent matter to fight for as fellow humans.”

Rep. Swalwell said he was particularly struck by Tanaka’s remark that “We are not statistics, or an economic benefit; we are humans.” He noted: “He’s right. This is a human rights issue and they and their families deserve leadership in Congress to pass the DREAM Act.”

Rep. Swalwell also recalled the story of another Dreamer, who came to the U.S. from Guatemala when he was 6 and is now 23, working to support his family despite having been admitted to several colleges. “He told us it was a slap in the face when he graduated from high school and learned how narrow his pathway to citizenship would be. As he shared his story, he was wearing an American Eagle shirt with a U.S. flag. He’s just as American as me and deserves a chance to legally be so, too.”

MIRA was represented at the lunch by Executive Director Eva A. Millona, who has made it priority to push for the DREAM Act and for state-level legislation to protect young immigrants and their families.

“We are very grateful to America's Voice for putting together this lunch, and to all the members of Congress for making the time to talk with Dreamers and listen to their perspectives,” she said. “The Trump administration has tried to take Dreamers hostage by ending DACA and then demanding draconian new immigration policies as the price of saving them from deportation. We urge all Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to do the right thing and pass a clean DREAM Act.”

The DACA program has been an unqualified success, providing new opportunities and futures for nearly 800,000 Dreamers who live, study, and work in America. In Massachusetts, an estimated 23,000 young people were eligible for DACA, and more than 8,000 have been in the program, though only about 5,900 are still enrolled, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Each DACA recipient has come forward, passed a background check and been granted permission to live and work legally in America. As a result, many have been able to fulfill their dreams of attending and completing college; most are working legally, paying taxes and providing for their families; and all are finding ways to contribute to the country they call home without fear of deportation.

ACT NOW: Tell members of Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act!

DACA group picA post-lunch group photo. Two of the Dreamers did not wish to appear in public; others are identified just by their first names to protect their privacy. From left: Rep. Murphy, Ledys, Paola, Alex, Rep. Kennedy, Rep. Swalwell, and Daishi Tanaka.