Illegal immigrants who are beneficiaries of Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program occupied the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington. About one thousand of the so-called DREAMers thronged in the atrium of the marble-lined building, bringing banners and chanting hymns and protests and raising a deafening cacophony. Protesters also thronged on the National Mall.

DACA was put in place by Janet Napolitano as Obama's Secretary of Homeland Security in 2012. Three other agency heads participated. It has allowed approximately 790,000 illegal immigrants who came into the country as minors to apply for work permits and remain in the United States. President Donald Trump ended DACA on September 5 of this year. However, he has called on Congress to pass the so-called DREAM Act to allow the young immigrants to remain in-country. The current incarnations of the DREAM Act are contained in House Bill 1084 and Senate Bill 1615.

 

“Our nation is not as strong as it is today despite immigrant families; it is as strong as it is today because of our immigrant families,” said freshman Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) during a press conference as the building's operations were disrupted by the protest. Twelve House Republicans held their own press conference and called for immediate passage of the bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan opposes it, arguing that the DREAM Act should not be part of the year-end spending bill and should instead be a separate vote.

Democrats and Republicans have major differences over what they want in the final version of the bill. Conservatives demand an e-verify program that would prohibit the the employment of illegal aliens while also ending the Visa Diversity program. The Visa Diversity program allows 50,000 immigrants to jump ahead of the line among applicants. Criticisms of the program spiked in the wake of the New York City terrorist attack on October 31 because the alleged assailant is a beneficiary of the program.

About 22,000 immigrants failed to renew their DACA permit this fall. This means that about 100 so-called DREAMers become deportable every day if Congress does not pass the DREAM Act. 

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, praised the approximately 900 DREAMers currently serving in the military as a reason to support the DREAM Act. "(Our) forces are stronger when they embody the nation’s diversity, drawing from a large pool of willing young people able to adapt to changing threats," he wrote in the New York Times on Thursday. "That is why we need legislation that will provide a pathway to citizenship for those immigrants who, among other attributes, are serving or have served in the military, whether they are in America legally or were brought here illegally as children. That kind of policy will help the military recruit new service members and improve readiness."



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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