tags: , , , , Blog

Three Months of Dreamer Dinners: Immigrant Youth Meet With More than Forty Elected Officials to Tell Stories, Explain Need for Dream Act

Share This:

View photos from all of our Dreamer Dinners here.

Back in July, America’s Voice announced that we were kicking off our “Dreamer Dinners” campaign, which sought to bring together immigrant youth and elected officials in order to build support for Dreamers and the Dream Act. Anyone could host one — Dreamer Dinners have been held in restaurants, offices, and homes — and anyone interested could attend.

Dreamers and allies from all over the country answered the call, and almost two dozen Dreamer Dinners featuring more than forty elected officials from federal, state, and local office were held. Some took place before Donald Trump’s September 5th announcement that he was rescinding DACA, and participants talked about their hopes and fears for the deferred action program. Some took place after, and Dreamers who attended pressed their elected officials for concrete details on how they would help the Dream Act pass. A number of officials who attended spoke about how different, refreshing, and important it was to engage with real constituents about how legislation would affect their lives, rather than thinking about it in the abstract.

As we head toward the end of this year, support for and passage of the Dream Act has never been more important. Beginning next year, thousands of Dreamers will begin to lose status every single day, imperiling the enormous gains they’ve made in the last five years, from earning high-paying jobs to buying homes to securing health care and helping to support their families. Twenty thousand Dreamers have already missed the deadline to renew their DACA this year.

Unless the Trump Administration wants to begin rounding up and deporting young immigrants away from the only home they’ve ever known, Republicans must pass the Dream Act (or similar piece of legislation) by the end of this year. Yet instead of coming to the table and negotiating with Democrats, Republican leaders have only talked about what they won’t do — attach the Dream Act to the end-of-year omnibus bill that represents the bill’s best chance of passing. This is an unacceptable response from Republicans, and Dreamers and advocates have vocally called them out for their inaction. Meanwhile, a number of Democrats have pledged to stand behind Dreamers in the coming end-of-year fight.

Dreamer Dinners have played a key role in making sure elected officials understand how necessary it is to pass the Dream Act this year, and getting them to talk about support for legislation. The Dinners are still being held, and they’re a great way for officials to show their support for this must-pass bill. Find out how you can host one here, and read more about what’s happened in our last three months of organizing Dreamer Dinners, below.

Three months of Dreamer Dinners: A recap

Over three months of Dreamer Dinners, immigrant youth and the elected officials they met with spoke about everything from what they liked to do, the quality of the restaurant they met in, their college majors, what the Dreamers hoped to do in life, the need to stay politically engaged, the difficulty of staying politically engaged when your whole life is on the line, and state-based initiatives like the California Values Act and Florida’s in-state tuition law. And of course, they spoke extensively about DACA and how immigrant youth need the Dream Act in order to preserve the lives they’ve worked so hard to earn.

Paul Quinonez, a DACA recipient who attended a Washington Dreamer Dinner with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), said that DACA has been a lifeline for many people and the end of it would throw his life into chaos. “I would lose my job,” he said afterward. “I wouldn’t be able to provide for myself, be able to pay rent and I wouldn’t have access to healthcare anymore.”

Many Dreamers had stories about how it took them six years or more to complete college, due to the fact that they couldn’t access financial aid and had to save up painstakingly, one year at a time. DACA freed them to make huge leaps by allowing them to legally work — and they dread returning to what life was like before DACA. Kevin Curiel Vazquez, who attended a Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dreamer Dinner, said that “between 2009 and 2013 [before DACA], I didn’t have any documentation and those were, hands-down, the most difficult periods of my life…living in fear is just not living at all.” He said his biggest fear now was not deportation but that all of the opportunities and hopes for the future he had now would be taken away.

In Florida, Eli spoke about her panic and determination to finish school before her DACA expires. She has only one more semester to go, but lives an hour away from the University of Central Florida — and without DACA, wouldn’t be able to legally drive. As she said, “Me not having my driver’s license anymore will matter a lot. I’m the first person in my family to go to college. If DACA is rescinded, I’m not going down without a fight.”

And in Arizona, Veronica spoke about how attending a Dreamer Dinner with Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) motivated her to fight even harder for the Dream Act, saying:

After talking with Congressman Gallego, I feel motivated to go out and pressure other politicians who haven’t decided where they stand yet, to make sure they do the right thing. I feel more powerful, to keep fighting to get the support we need for the DREAM Act.

Elected officials respond to Dreamer Dinners

The elected officials who attended the Dreamer Dinners, for their part, expressed support for Dreamers and the Dream Act, affirmed the contributions that immigrants and Dreamers make to America, emphasized that Dreamers and their parents are Americans too, vowed to fight for legislation, and thanked the Dreamers for sharing such personal and moving stories.

In Ohio, Columbus Councilwoman Liz Brown said that:

DACA recipients are young people whose lives are filled with promise. They are taxpayers, and they’re our neighbors. We must stand with them and against any threat to the proven success that is the DACA program.

In New Mexico, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) said that:

I wish the President could sit in an Albuquerque living room and have a real discussion with DREAMers about what DACA means to them.

I did that this morning, and every time I talk with these young people and their families, I am reminded about how valuable they are to our community. They are not political pawns, despite the President’s hateful rhetoric and actions. Immigrant families aspire to be productive members of our communities and provide the same opportunities we all want for our children.

In Texas, State Rep. Ramon Romero hosted two Dreamer Dinners and strongly commended the experience. As he said of the Dreamers he met with:

I was moved by the enthusiasm of their nature and excited about their optimism for the future. Despite the obstacles, it’s clear that this group of young people are not deterred in their belief that that they have a lot to give to this nation, and that this nation is their home…

Personally I am very humble, it was a thoughtful evening for me. I was taken back to the difficulties of life as a low-income immigrant child. That dinner filled my tank, and it’s opportunities like these that remind me why I ran for office.

And in Florida at his Dreamer Dinner, Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) at one point made such a forceful statement in favor of Dreamers that some attendees teared up. In response to some of the Dreamers at the dinner saying that they sometimes felt like they didn’t belong anywhere, he said, “As a United States Congressman, I’m here to tell you that you are an American and this is your country.”

You can read more about the individual Dreamer Dinners here.

Attending elected officials

The list of elected officials who have attended at least one Dreamer Dinner is as follows:

Members of Congress: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), Rep. Jimmy Lopez (D-CA), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), the staff from from Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters (D-MI) offices, and Grand Rapids Congressional candidate Jeff Thomas.

State officials: Texas: State Rep. Gene Wu, State Rep. Lina Ortega; Michigan: State Rep. David LaGrand, State Rep. Winnie Brinks; Florida: State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, State Sen. Victor Torres, State Rep. Ramon Romero, State Rep. Evan Jenne, State Rep. Amy Mercado, State Rep. Carlos Guillermo-Smith, State Rep. John Cortes, State Rep. Daisy Baez, State Rep. Robert Asencio, State Rep. Bobby DuBose, State Rep. Patricia Williams, State Rep. Barrington Russell, and State Rep. David Richardson.

City and local officials: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Los Angeles Councilmember Gil Cedillo; New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio; Columbus Councilwoman Liz Brown; six Kent County, Michigan commissioners; one Grand Rapids city commissioner; Michigan Board of Education Trustee Lupe Ramos-Montigny; and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

The America’s Voice Dreamer Dinners campaign is a spin-off of our 2016 DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) Dinners push. Learn more about that here.