Dozens of immigration advocates rallied outside Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Manhattan office Tuesday, waving banners that read “Aqui Estamos Y No Nos Vamos #Heretostay,” and demanding he push harder for the passage of a clean Dream Act.
Members of several advocacy groups — including Make the Road, Center for Popular Democracy, New York Communities for Change and Working Families Party — banged on empty paint cans with sticks, blew on whistles and chanted “Schumer, Schumer can’t you see, what the Dream Act means to me” and “Standing tall, standing tall, fight for justice all day long,” outside the lawmaker’s office at 780 Third Ave.
In both Spanish and English, speakers at the rally demanded that the Senate minority leader ask his fellow Democrats to refrain from supporting any legislation until a clean Dream Act is passed, emphasizing that they do not want the act to be used as a bargaining chip.
“He has the power to not let Congress go home and celebrate Christmas with their families,” Zuleima Dominguez, a 24-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals enrollee, said.
After President Donald Trump announced his decision to end the DACA program in September, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children were made vulnerable to deportation risks.
Since then, immigrant advocates and some congressional lawmakers, including Schumer, have voiced their support for passing legislation that would protect the young immigrants’ legal status in the country before DACA ends on March 5.
Dominguez said her legal protections end in September 2018. Having spent seven years working toward her degree in political science and gender studies — first at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and then at Hunter College — Dominguez asked, “What do the seven years of sacrifice for college mean if I can’t stay here long enough to get a job after?”
The to-be graduate, who arrived in the U.S. from Mexico when she was 7, said she’s eager to stay and contribute toward the American economy, as were dozens of other DACA enrollees who attended the rally.
As Congress negotiates the budget, protesters called for Schumer to help shut down the government if a Dream Act isn’t passed by the end of the year, chanting, “If we don’t get it, shut it down.”
Former DACA enrollee and current green card-holder Walter Barrientos, 33, said he was helped out of deportation by Schumer in 2006, when he was detained in upstate New York as an undocumented college graduate.
“I’m committed to this fight because I want to make sure the struggles I went through, living in fear every day, nobody goes through that again,” Barrientos, organizing director with Make the Road NY, said. “Nobody from our families is going to be celebrating the holidays because everyone is fearful of what this administration is going to do to young people and their families. We need the senator to leverage his position in the government.”
If passed, the Dream Act will give young DACA enrollees, also known as Dreamers, the chance to apply for a green card. Green card holders will also be able to apply for citizenship after five years of residency in the country.
The advocacy groups at the rally delivered more than 250,000 petitions, wrapped in Christmas-themed boxes, to staff members from Schumer’s office. Collected by Make the Road NY and Credo Action, the signatures aimed to show Schumer how many of his constituents support the legislation.
After the delivery, a spokeswoman from his office, Jackie Benavides, listened to the stories of 10 DACA enrollees. They demanded that Schumer make sure the Democratic Party stands together, particularly in the Senate, and defends immigrant communities.
“We are doing everything in our power to make sure the Dream Act is included in the final budget resolution,” Benavides said, stressing how the legislation has always been a priority for Schumer. “We want to make sure nothing passes until we have the Dream Act in there.”
With Lauren Cook