Mirroring protests held across the country on Wednesday, Fresno’s immigrant-rights advocates met outside the offices of elected officials to demand they pass a “clean” Dream Act before the holidays.
That means sustaining support for undocumented young people who have so far been protected from deportation, while also avoiding the criminalization of other groups of immigrants who don’t meet the criteria for such protections.
A Friday deadline for the federal budget looms and could mean a government shutdown if politicians can’t agree on a spending plan. Immigrant advocates have called on Democrats to refuse to support the spending bill unless it includes support for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is set to expire in March. The Senate is expected to vote on legislation similar to DACA in January, but activists say that’s not soon enough.
The program, created in 2012 by President Barack Obama, allowed a reprieve from deportation for certain undocumented young people, granting them work permits and the ability to attend college, including about 18,000 immigrants living in Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties.
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“Democrats like (Dianne) Feinstein and (Nancy) Pelosi have been posing as allies to immigrant communities, yet when it comes down to actually standing up for immigrants, they lack courage to do so,” said Sandy Valenciano, with the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. “Their refusal to insert the Dream Act in the House spending bill contradicts their support for DACA youth. This is why we are calling on them to sustain from voting, even if threatens a government shutdown.”
Iris Polet, a Fresno State student who came to the U.S. when she was 2-years-old, stood outside Sen. Feinstien’s Fresno office in the rain on Wednesday, holding a sign that said, “Trump says no to DACA, we say he is a piece of caca.”
“Growing up, I was very shy. I was afraid of getting deported or arrested so I didn’t have a voice. I stayed behind,” Polet said. “When I was granted DACA, a whole new world opened up for me.”
While a new version of the Dream Act introduced earlier this year would allow pathways to citizenship for some undocumented people, it also increases Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“It’s really important for us to make sure that we’re advocating for a clean Dream Act that’s not going to have other pending bills attached to it for border enforcement, and essentially end up criminalizing other immigrant communities that don’t qualify for DACA,” said Ariana Martinez Lott, who led a “vigil for a clean Dream Act” outside the Clovis office of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare. “We’re not willing to settle for something that is at the expense of other immigrant communities.”
The faith-centered protest at Nunes’ office featured carolers donning Santa hats who changed the lyrics to popular Christmas songs for their cause.
To the tune of “Silent Night,” they sang “Anxious night, all’s not calm, all’s not right. Dreamers losing status every day. Congress, we need you to vote our way.”
Karen Vargas, an undocumented student at Fresno Pacific University, recalled being detained by ICE and sleeping in jail when she was 8 years old for her first attempt at crossing the Mexican border into the United States.
“I didn’t know coming into this country was going to make me an illegal person,” she said. “I began to realize my being here was not like everybody else’s.”