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Protesters defend DACA in Tucson last fall, after Donald Trump ended the Obama-era protections for young immigrants.
The fate of DREAMers is uncertain, but one one Tucson DREAMer is confident Congress will find a legislative fix to replace Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Jesus Lucero, a member of Scholarship A-Z, an organization that works for access to higher education and equal rights for young immigrants, recently spent two-and-a-half weeks in the halls of Congress, telling politicians his story.
The morning after Thanksgiving, Lucero and about 20 other people loaded into two vans at 3 a.m. and drove 48 hours to Washington D.C. Many of them were DREAMers—the swath of American-grown youth brought into the U.S. as children without the legal status.
The group used the “bird-dog” approach—waiting for Congress members to come out of voting. Lucero said that often, Republican senators were the ones who took stopped to listen to his story while both Democratic and Republican congress members ignored him by getting on their phones.
“It’s really heartbreaking to open your heart to someone and have them shut you down,” he said.
Lucero’s been in the U.S. since he was 2. He’s about to turn 19. He was never able to get DACA because of a technicality. Among other things, in order to qualify, DREAMers had to prove they’d been in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007. Lucero says he was but lacked the documentation to prove it.
Although he is confident some form of DREAMer legislation will pass, he doubts it will be a “clean DREAM Act,” meaning free of other immigration enforcement measures. Many Democrats and even the occasional Republican have expressed the need for a clean DREAM Act.
Donald Trump has long said any protection for DREAMers needs to be attached to stricter border security measures, although on occasion, he’s flipped his position.
Trump prepared to ring in the new year with an ultimatum. On the morning of Dec. 29, he tweeted “The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc. We must protect our Country at all cost!”
Then, in the first week of 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump clarified what he had in mind: $18 billion for his “big, beautiful wall. And he wants American taxpayers to pick up the bill, rather than Mexico, the country he has repeatedly said would pay for it. The billion-dollar plan would construct and replace barriers along 700 miles of border, which would cover just under half of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
And this week, on Tuesday, Jan. 9, in a rare televised meeting with members of Congress, Trump initially agreed with Sen. Dianne Feinstein that Congress should handle a DACA fix first, then move on to immigration reform. A Republican senator had to jump in and explain to Trump what he was agreeing to.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is one of the more moderate Republicans on immigration. He justified his yes vote on the tax bill by tweeting he had secured a commitment from the administration and senate leadership to “enact fair and permanent protections for DACA recipients.”
He’s been vocal about wanting to deal with DACA before tackling the arduous task of immigration reform. He’s also been skeptical about a wall covering the length of the border.
“Those of us who live in a border state understand that you can’t have a 2,000-mile wall across the southern border,” he said in a recording he shared with press on Jan. 10. “There are mountains and rivers that prevent it in some places; in some places you just don’t need it.”
But he also added that a clean DREAM Act is just not going to happen.
“We’ve got to get 60 votes, meaning we’ve got to get votes on the Republican side and the Democratic side, and the agreement is going to be DACA and some border security elements,” he said.
On Jan. 11, Flake was part of a bipartisan group of senators who pitched Trump a plan that addressed all the concerns he outlined in his tweet. The Daily Beast reported the deal included a revamp of the lottery system, a restriction on so-called “chain migration” for Dreamers’ parents, $1 billion for border security and $1.6 billion for a border wall.
The plan also included a path to citizenship for eligible Dreamers, and it would have extend the Temporary Protected Status, enacted in 2001, for 200,000 Salvadorans.
The lawmakers also talked about the visa lottery system relating to Haiti and African countries. Trump rejected the plan, reportedly saying “Why do we want all these people from shithole countries coming here?” He suggested that the U.S. should instead bring in more immigrants from from Norway.