‘Here to Stay’: DREAMers take over Senate building, demand immigration reform

More than a dozen people were arrested after hundreds of illegal immigrant students walked out of classes to march on Capitol Hill. Protesters urged Congress to pass permanent DACA protections for ‘DREAMers’ brought to the US illegally as children.

Over 1,000 DREAMers filled the Hart Senate Office Building Thursday to demand Congress pass a “clean Dream Act,” two months after President Donald Trump announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was being scrapped.

Protesters gathered in the main atrium of the Senate building, chanting “Clean Dream Act!” and unfurling massive banners that said “GOP we need a clean dream act by December.”

The first four floors of the building were so crowded that one US Capitol Police officer said the atrium sounded “like a football game.”

The Here to Stay day of action was organized by the activist group United We Dream, which also organized walkouts in 30 schools across 10 states.

“It’s been two months since DACA has been rescinded and we have no solution yet,” Bruna Bouhid, communications manager for United We Dream, told the Washington Post. “Immigrant youth are honestly fed up, and they are tired of waiting.”

Organizers defined a “clean Dream Act” as a bipartisan bill “without any additions or amendments that will put our families and the rest of our immigrant community at greater risk for undue detention and deportation.”

In Washington DC, the protesters marched from the Senate to the Capitol building, chanting “undocumented, unafraid.”

During the demonstration, a US Capitol Police officer told the crowd that it was illegal to protest in the building. A spokesperson for the US Capitol Police said 15 adults were arrested during the protests, according to the Washington Post.

The protesters were joined by several politicians, mostly Democrats, including Florida Senator Bill Nelson and California Senator Kamala Harris, who met with the demonstrators and joined the protests.

The Dream Act, which was passed in 2012 under former President Barack Obama, gives temporary protection to nearly 700,000 recipients who were brought to the US as children.

On Wednesday, a group of 25 Democrats said they would not vote on any spending bills until Congress passes a Dream Act, an action that could cause a government shutdown if they gather more support.  

“We didn’t lobby, we didn’t do anything,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois) said in a statement. “Had we tried, we’d have many, many more.”

However, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), head of the Freedom Caucus, said he does not think there are enough lawmakers to threaten a shutdown.

“You're telling me that they would rather have a shutdown than to actually have increased spending and probably a supplemental on top of that so there's probably going to be funding for Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, and so they're going to vote against those spending measures so that they can do something for the Dream Act?” Meadows said, according to The Hill.

In September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the DACA program was being rescinded. Sessions said the Justice Department advised the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct an “orderly, lawful wind-down” of the program, saying it “yielded terrible humanitarian consequences.”

Congress was then given six months to pass a new law to regulate the status of people who were brought into the US illegally as children. If lawmakers do not sign a bill before March 5, 2018, DACA beneficiaries will have their status’ expire in March, according to DHS.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also stopped accepting first-time applications after September 5.

However, President Trump later said that DACA recipients “have nothing to worry about,” adding that if Congress cannot pass a law he will “revisit this issue.”

During her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s nominee to lead the DHS, said so-called DREAMers would not be a priority for law enforcement. She also said Congress should pass DACA legislation

“I believe that we must, and we owe it to them to find a permanent solution,” Nielsen said. “It’s not a way to expect anyone to live month to month at a time.”