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Eight Ohio Dreamers Came to DC to With A Message for Sen. Portman: Champion the Dream Act

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“We need your leadership. This is about our lives.”

Eight Ohio Dreamers came to DC on Wednesday to get a minute of Senator Rob Portman’s (R-OH) time.  After weeks of unanswered meeting requests for the Senator, they came to DC for his weekly constituent coffee. The coffee hour was cancelled, but the Dreamers’ lives remained in limbo, so they mobilized to ensure he would hear them out.

At the Russell Senate Office Building, they respectfully requested a meeting, again, through staff, and were told they would “look into it.” They organized supporters on Facebook and Twitter.  And they decided to sit down and wait until their Senator would make time for them.  Leaders with IJPC – YES and DreamActivist Ohio were there and captured the activity.  Watch what happened here and here.

After a couple of hours, Sen. Portman came by and had a conversation with his constituents.  Unfortunately, their conversation left them with more questions than answers.

Said José Arnulfo Cabrera, a senior at Xavier University and employee of IJPC from Cincinnati:

Senator Portman never told us he supported the Dream Act, he said would rather legislate DACA. When we asked him how that would work, he didn’t give us any clear answers.  This worries me a lot.  If it happens, DACA recipients could become second-class citizens.

The Ohioans asked Sen. Portman to be a champion of the Dream Act.  Portman insisted that they were focusing on the wrong bill and that they should instead support something that only codifies the DACA program. DACA is a temporary status that involved a work permit, but no path to citizenship.  The eight Ohio Dreamers argued that the United States is their home and that if Congress is finally taking up this issue, it should resolve their status permanently.

Said Jose Mendez, Cleveland Director, DreamActivist Ohio:

Since 2001, Dreamers have been fighting for a permanent solution.  We won’t accept a temporary fix ever again.  As an organizer I will continue to mobilize Ohio for a permanent solution.  Senator Portman, we need you to show leadership.  This is about our lives.  We need more leaders, not followers, to represent Ohioans.

Explained Sara Hamdi of Englewood:

Senator Portman’s stance on Dreamers and DACA didn’t sit well with me. I feel that he is still making us feel inferior, unimportant, and that all of the hard work we have put in this country doesn’t matter.  We don’t want a continued DACA, we want a clean Dream Act. 

Heyra Avila, a Xavier University student, said:

Senator Portman’s support for Dreamers only seems to come out once he’s on the spot being demanded answers. He says he supports Dreamers but does not support a clear permanent solution, only an extended DACA-type plan. It seems he only wants to focus on the short term. Senator Portman and his staff did not seem to acknowledge our need for a permanent legislative solution now. He said he’s willing to work with Dreamers but only time will tell how true that is. He did give us permission to verbally say he supports Dreamers when we go talk to other Senators and Representatives. Words only mean so much though. We will hold him accountable.

Said Ariel Lopez from Cleveland:

Senator Rob Portman said he supports us Dreamers but doesn’t support the Dream Act. Instead, he supports a permanent DACA solution that we can fight to amend later.  I understand the need for compromise, but I don’t think we need to compromise with our lives.  We need security and certainty. We’re counting down the days until our DACA expiration dates.  We deserve a permanent solution from Congress and that is what I want my Senator to fight for. 

Read more about the Ohioans who faced Portman here and below.   

Ariel Lopez came to the US as a baby, after his parents discovered that he had a serious form of eczema which needed treatment in the US. His parents obtained visas and brought Ariel to Ohio, but then had to overstay the visas when the visiting period expired before Ariel’s treatment was complete. Ariel is currently attending Cuyahoga Community College, earning an associate’s degree in business administration with aspirations to one day become an entrepreneur who participates in politics. 

Jose Mendez came to the US when he was seven and now works as a security guard. As he recently said: ”I keep people safe. I have been here all my life, like the other dreamers. We have jobs, families, lives. We are your neighbors, your friends. We played by the rules.” He first applied for DACA in 2012, the same year it was announced. “I came out of the shadows and freely gave my information to the government because I trusted them…Let me tell you, I am not going back into the shadows.” 

José Arnulfo Cabrera came to the US when he was four years old and has lived in Cincinnati ever since. Growing up, José Arnulfo was always going to rallies, marches, and meetings with his mother – all surrounding the rights of immigrants or workers. Initially, he found the rallies boring, until one day, he was “tricked” into telling his story and found the strength of sharing his own past. Today, José Arnulfo is a senior at Xavier University and the immigration program organizer at IJPC where he coordinates the YES program.

Heyra Avila is currently earning her Philosophy, Politics, and the Public degree at Xavier University in Cincinnati — while working as a mortgage loan officer. She previously worked in finance as a banker, and has also been a substitute teacher, medical interpreter, citizenship test educator, and Sunday School teacher. Writing and public speaking are her passion. She is determined to go to law school to study immigration law, and wants to be a published author for essays, poetry, and non-fiction.

Elvis Saldias grew up in rural, northwest Ohio and held many labor-intensive jobs in order to pay for college tuition and other expenses. When DACA was announced, Elvis filed on the day that USCIS began accepting applications and became one of the first Dreamers in Ohio to receive DACA status. He graduated from The Ohio State University in 2015 with a degree in political science and currently works at Nationwide insurance.

Ulises Cruz came to the US when he was 14, and says that DACA has allowed him and his siblings to feel like they can achieve their goals and finally be part of the community they have lived in for more than a decade. As he said, DACA has helped them work toward “becoming homeowners, maintaining stable jobs and lives as well as contributing back to the community by paying taxes and plenty of volunteer work.” Without DACA, all of their efforts and goals will be changed.

Jessica Camacho is a well-known Dreamer and activist in Columbus, Ohio, who came to the US when she was five.

Sara Hamdi is a Dreamer from Englewood, Ohio — near Dayton — whose mom Fatiha currently faces deportation. Sara’s brother Sami has severe Down Syndrome and other chronic conditions which leave him unable to talk. If her mother is deported, Sara’s family is unsure who will provide Sami with all the care he needs. As she said recently, “We have been in the United States for 21 years trying to live the American Dream. What would you do, if someone was trying to take you from your family?”