For several hours, the spotlight shined on Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 16. Nielsen testified that she did not hear President Trump use a vulgarity in a meeting with lawmakers about immigration the prior week.
“I did not hear that word used, no, sir,” she responded when reminded by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vermont) that she was testifying under oath. She was pressed again by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), who was present at the same meeting with the president.
Just outside the hearing room in the Hart Senate Office Building, hundreds of protesters from the the activist group United We Dream assembled in the building lobby to demand Congress pass the DREAM Act. They then dispersed to personally lobby various Republican senators in their offices. Several were arrested by the Capitol Police.
The DREAM (acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act is a multi-phase process for qualifying alien minors in the U.S. that would first grant conditional residency and, upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency. First proposed in 2001 by Durbin and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), it has been introduced several times but has failed to pass.
At the hearing, Durbin asked two “DREAMers,” those undocumented immigrants temporarily protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, to stand and be recognized. One, Alejandra Duran, is a medical student in Chicago. Said Durbin: “Her future is in doubt. Without the protection of DACA, she does not have a legal permission to work in America. You cannot become a doctor without a residency. A residency is a job. If DACA is eliminated and her protection is eliminated and her right to work is eliminated, then her future as a doctor is in doubt.”
The other who was asked to stand, John Magdaleno, “came from Venezuela at the age of 9. In high school, he was the commander of Air Honor Society and Junior ROTC. He graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering with the highest honors. He now works as a chemical engineer. His dream is to serve in the United States military. John, thanks for being here. That’s what this debate is all about. That’s what DACA is all about.”
Established by the Obama administration in June of 2012 and rescinded by President Donald Trump in September of 2017, DACA allowed some individuals who entered the country as minors and had either entered or remained in the country illegally to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit. As of 2017, approximately 800,000 DREAMers were enrolled in the program.
If DACA is not renewed, many of these DREAMers, some of whom have lived in the U.S. virtually all of their lives, face loss of their education prospects and livelihoods and face permanent separation from their families, risking deportation in some cases to countries they barely knew.
The issue has been caught up in Congress’s funding of the federal government. Just before Christmas, Republicans put forward a short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution or CR, that didn’t include a substitute for DACA. To the consternation of Democrats in Congress, Speaker Paul Ryan has proposed another continuing resolution that omits DACA. Without action by Congress, DACA recipients will begin to lose their protections from deportation on March 5. If a deal is not struck and a CR does not pass, the government will shut down as early as this weekend.
View Jeff Malet’s photos from the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing and the protest at the Hart Senate Office Building by clicking on the photo icons below.