Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20)
By Jasmine Huang
All of them wore black. Holding hands with outstretched arms, they carefully organized themselves into a straight line. The group of approximately 24 students stood firmly together amidst the usual lunch-time commotion of McClurg Dining Hall to bring awareness to the DC protest demanding a ‘clean’ Dream Act.
Members of ADELANTE (Allies Determined to Empower Latinx Ambitions Now Towards Excellence), HOLA (Hispanic Organization for Latino Awareness), and ACASA (African and Caribbean Student Association), the assembly looked to Edgar Payano (C’18) for direction as they spread out across the food lines. Lifting up his left hand, he began counting. The surrounding crowds began to still, waiting in anticipation.
“One,” he called out. “Two! Three!”
Raising their voices over the noise, the group shouted altogether, “Demand Clean Dream Act! Demand Clean Dream Act! Demand Clean Dream Act!”
With each chant, they stomped on the ground as viewers observed and videotaped the team. The entire demonstration lasted no longer than a minute, but its impact was felt throughout the building on November 9 at 12:30 p.m..
While the September 5 rescission of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will not be fully implemented until March 5, 2018, there have been nationwide protests for a ‘clean’ Dream Act, which would essentially provide undocumented immigrants a clear course of action to citizenship and guaranteed protection. The legislation would exist on its own, without attachment to any other laws that could negatively affect the immigration system.
“It’s a feasible path to citizenship for people who have spent the majority, if not their entire lives, in the United States,” explained ADELANTE Co-Director Payano. “They have given to their economy, they have given to their community and their family.”
On the day before November 9, he brought up the idea to hold a chant in McClurg during an ADELANTE meeting. All over the country, students had been planning demonstrations in unity with the Washington, D.C. walkout and protest that demanded Congress pass regulations for DACA recipients.
“We were talking about it, like yo, we should do something for this day,” said Payano. “Whether it’s last minute or not we need to bring awareness because that’s what we do.”
Noting the extensive and difficult process to pass DACA in Congress, ADELANTE member Eliana Perozo (C’18) explained her reasons for participation: “[DACA] was introduced during Obama’s first term. It wasn’t approved until his second term and with many, many changes to the bill, it became something completely different. Now it’s being taken away, so when we say, ‘Demand Clean Dream Act,’ it’s not just that students who were born in the U.S. get to stay here, but it’s also that their parents aren’t being criminalized, that they aren’t being demonized for coming to this country.”
She emphasized, “For me, it’s more than just demanding a clean Dream Act. We’re not just legalizing immigrant children being in this country, we’re also moving away from a narrative that dehumanizes their parents.”
Following the chant, ADELANTE had a phonathon for anyone interested in calling their state senators and representatives. Serving as the organization’s Policy Educator, Esmeralda Trevino (C’20) helped manage the table that day. Although not personally affected by the repeal of DACA, she was still resolute about generating awareness for the situation.
“I know there are other people my age and people on campus as well who are affected by [DACA’s rescission] and whom I know are DACA recipients,” said Trevino. “I feel like everyone deserves a chance to be in this country whether they have the status or not, and for them to just not have a social security number and a paper to have permission to work is just so unfair… being a U.S. citizen is a privilege.”
The widespread demonstrations reflect a growing urgency for answers. Roughly 790,000 people in America are DACA beneficiaries, placing them in a state of uncertainty. Although Congresspeople have introduced a bipartisan dream act in both the Senate and House of Representatives, the bill has yet to pass.
Trevino remarked, “Congress has until December 15 to come up with a solution for what they’re going to do with DACA. If they leave it alone, it’ll just fizzle out, basically. All those DACA permits are going to expire and that’s going to leave people without jobs and more at risk for deportation.”
Despite occurring in a short timespan, the public standing in McClurg gave bystanders a new perspective.
“Knowing that you’re a DACA recipient and you could be kicked out of this country in less than 321 days is really uncomfortable. To make people uncomfortable in less than 30 seconds gives them a tiny, tiny peek of what it’s like to be afraid because you’re brown or black, or because of your legal standing in this country,” said Perozo.
She concluded, “The political is personal… If EQB is what we stand for, then students who are not brown, or do not feel affiliated with DACA, should still feel a responsibility to be a part of this conversation because their fellow students are being affected.”