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Congressman in Cuffs

Grijalva arrested in front of New York's Trump Tower during action in support of DREAMers

Danyelle Khmara Sep 28, 2017 1:00 AM

As recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals face uncertain futures, Southern Arizona members of Congress are pushing for a long-term solution for the million undocumented people brought into the U.S. as children,

But there are conflicting views, predictably, among the Democrats and Republicans in the Arizona delegation.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ03) says Congress needs to get legislation passed now, rather than wait until DACA expires in March. Grijalva, along with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and U.S. Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), was arrested while demonstrating in the street below Trump Tower on Sept. 19, holding a banner advocating for DACA recipients.

The demonstration and intentional arrest was to draw attention, so "DACA and the DREAM Act don't fade into the thin air of news," Grijalva said in an interview with the Tucson Weekly.

"If you can't draw attention to the issue, and civil disobedience becomes a means to be able to keep that issue alive, you do it," he said. "It's used judiciously so it doesn't lose its importance."

Grijalva got some blowback from critics who said he should be working to get a bill passed for DACA recipients instead of protesting and being arrested. His response: "That message should be given to the people who have been blocking it."

He supports the DREAM Act of 2017, which he says is not perfect but the best chance they currently have to find a solution for Dreamers.

"We need a clean DREAM Act that has a pathway to citizenship," he said at a forum on DACA, on Sept. 23, in Tucson. "At least for 800,000, plus the ones aging in, there will be the security of a permanent, legal protection with the opportunity for citizenship."

He said that not stipulating a path to citizenship is unacceptable as it would create "an underclass of people," who for the rest of their lives wouldn't have access to the rights of an American citizen.

The DREAM Act is sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). It would allow some DREAMers a path to citizenship after 13 years or more. Qualifications include having lived in the U.S. a certain amount of time and meeting educational, work or military-service requirements.

When Grijalva says the DREAM Act should be "clean," he's opposing the push among some members of Congress to attach border security measures to relief for DREAMers. This could include additional physical barriers such as a wall, additional border patrol agents on the ground or investing in new security technology.

"They want to have a debate about security, about a fantasy wall, let's do that, but don't hold these 800,000 lives hostage in order to have something put into a bill that otherwise would not pass on its own," Grijalva said.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan recently put together a group of eight Republicans, including one Arizona representative, Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-AZ), to address both border security issues and DACA. Separately, McSally is working with a bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to find a solution to DACA.

"The purpose of both working groups is to find a framework where we can address the DACA recipients legislatively while also moving some likely, meaningful border-security legislation along as well," she said.

McSally was also one of five Republicans and eight Democrats that met with Donald Trump, at his request on Sept. 13, to discuss DACA and border security. McSally said she sees a broad consensus that "moving these two things forward together makes sense."

"There is some consensus across our society that the DACA recipients are in some very unique circumstances," she said. "But they want to make sure that we're not dealing with another 800,000 people in the same situation another five, 10 years from now. We've got to do something to address some of the root issues of how we got to this place as opposed to just dealing with the symptoms."

McSally said she is against the idea that border security provisions include a "2,000-mile sea-to-shining-sea wall," but she could support measures that include upkeep to the existing wall and additional physical barriers.

She said they're also talking about adding provisions to crack down on visa overstays by using biometrics such as fingerprints or facial recognition to identify people.

Grijalva said that if the DREAM Act were on the floor of Congress today, it would pass as is, without any additional security measures.

"If Ryan was to put the DREAM Act on the floor, then Martha McSally would find herself voting for it—clean," Grijalva said in an interview.

He'd like to see the Democrats withhold support from the proposed budget and debt ceiling legislation unless Congress will pass relief for DREAMers, free from border-security ties.

Two Republican Sens. introduced a new, more conservative proposal, on Sept. 25, called the Succeed Act. It would allow Dreamers a 15-year path to citizenship, through either higher education, employment or military service. So far, the bill stands on its own, without border security provisions.

Dreamers who meet certain qualifications could apply for a Green Card after 10 years, but would still be restricted from sponsoring residency for a close relatives, although normally Green Card holders are allowed to do so, Politico reported Monday.

In the meantime, Grijalva and other members of Congress have sent a bipartisan letter to the administration and Homeland Security asking for a 60- to 90-day extension beyond the Oct. 5 DACA renewal deadline, as DREAMers whose DACA expires between Sept. 5 to Oct. 5 rush to renew their legal status for another two years, many of whom didn't expect to need funds for the $500 renewal costs yet.

McSally thinks Congress will be able to find a solution for DREAMers before DACA expires.

"It often takes a deadline for there to be some pressure to solve a problem that a lot of people agree needs to be solved," she said. "My hope would be that we get the majority of both sides to agree with the final agreement—the majority of Democrats, the majority of Republicans."