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America Stands Up for DREAMers and the Immigrant Communities From Which They Come

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As Inauguration Day nears, Americans across the country are voicing their support for the 750,000 DREAMers who have been able to live and work without fear because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as the broader immigrant community that is at risk of deportation under the new President-elect.

Below, we highlight the efforts from California, a new editorial from the New York Times, an op-ed from our own Juan Escalante, a stirring Senate floor speech by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and a floor speech lifting up the contributions of DREAMers by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL).

California state Senator Kevin de León filed the California Values Act. The legislation would prohibit state or local resources from being used for immigration enforcement and would bar state and local law enforcement agencies from enforcing immigration laws in “safe spaces”– including public schools, hospitals, and courthouses, ensuring immigrants equal access to these necessities.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein pledged to defend DACA and the 350,000 California DREAMers in a new op-ed published in the San Francisco Chronicle.In her defense of DACA, Senator Feinstein highlights the accomplishments of Denisse Rojas, a UC Berkeley graduate, a medical school student; and a DREAMer. As Feinstein notes, “The deferred action program offers opportunities to many thousands of students like Rojas, young people who have only known the United States as their home. These young people are fiercely patriotic….They were educated here, they work here and they contribute to communities across America.”

The New York Times editorial board applauds the efforts of cities and states across the country, including California, for their efforts to defend the undocumented immigrant communities. The editorial board notes that cities and states are adopting these measures out of the fear that “Mr. Trump, who ran on a pledge of mass deportation, dehumanizing immigrants and refugees, will remove humane discretion from immigration enforcement. They understand that not all unauthorized immigrants are criminals, that not all should be detained or deported and that the country cannot enforce its way out of its failure to reform unjust immigration laws.” They further argue that, “By drawing a bright line between federal immigration enforcement and local policing, the California Values Act would promote smarter, more effective law enforcement. Local officers would continue to keep the peace, and in the face of criminal threats — as validated by a warrant from a judge — would cooperate with federal agents. But if the Trump administration begins roundups of those who pose no danger, of minor offenders and non criminals, staking out schools, churches, businesses and homes — they will not do its job for it.”

In Florida, Juan Escalante published a new op-ed in the Miami Herald calling for the protection of an in-state tuition bill, currently under threat by state Senator Greg Steube. Passed in 2014 by a Republican-held state legislature, the legislation qualifies undocumented immigrants who graduated from Florida high schools for in-state tuition  – a life-altering opportunity for many. Escalante, a DREAMer and FSU graduate, recounts his own fight for higher education despite the obstacles of his status. He concludes, “Floridians are no strangers to the plight of the undocumented community, and, following the most divisive election in our country’s history, we must stand united and defend the in-state tuition bill. As [Florida State University] President Thrasher said earlier this week, protecting DACA ‘is the right thing to do, and I will help these students and others who are already here find a path towards a better future.’ In the face of Donald Trump and Sen. Steube, it is time for Florida to rise to the challenge and recommit itself to helping the undocumented community find their paths to better futures.”

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez – a member of the Gang of 8 that led the charge to win Senate approval of immigration reform in 2013 – held the Senate floor yesterday to amplify the success of DREAMers across the nation and to call for both the preservation of DACA and the protection of all immigrants. As Senator Menendez notes, “with an immigration system as flawed as ours, and with so many things to still fix, DACA has been a beacon of hope – one shining light leading the way toward fairness, justice, and a better life for so many young immigrants looking for a chance to succeed in America as Americans. Yes, abolishing it would be a tragic mistake for an Administration seeking to unite what they helped divide.” In addition to DREAMers, Senator Menendez speaks to the high character of the original DREAMers – the parents who sacrificed everything to come to the United States in hopes of giving their children a better future: “Their parents are also terrific people and so are many other hard-working immigrants who have lived in this country for years, are not criminals, and have integrated themselves into the tapestry of American society.  We know them.  They go to church with us, they attend parent-teacher conferences and are our neighbors. They pick our crops, watch our kids, open businesses and perform back-breaking work to keep the gears of this economy turning.” Finally, as Menendez notes, “The human cost is too high to pay – a cost measured in the thousands of parents separated from their children who are deported, husbands and wives separated from their spouses, and millions of families who are torn apart because of our broken immigration system.”

 In recent weeks, Senator Dick Durbin – a longtime immigration reform champion – has taken to the Senate floor to amplify the contributions of DREAMers. Earlier this week, Senator Durbin told the story of Luke Hwang, whose family emigrated from South Korea to Palisades Park, New Jersey when Luke was 11. Of growing up in Palisades Park, Hwang said, “It didn’t take long for me to adjust and assimilate because my elementary school offered bilingual classes in Korean and English. This is the kind of America I have known and experienced— not just mundanely accepting diversity but going above and beyond to serve the unique needs of a diverse community.” In a letter to Senator Durbin, he wrote: “DACA did much more than shielding me from deportation and changing my immediate circumstances; it gave me a new faith, and brought out a new me to reject fear and continue worthwhile pursuits. DACA has been tremendously empowering. Wherever I find myself in the future I hope to mentor, encourage, and ultimately empower others.”