Children of the Dream: Yorkers rally in D.C. for DREAM Act

Police arrested 181 people — including Indivisible York advocates Mary Barnes and Carol Stowell — at an immigration rally in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

"It was the largest civil disobedience action in the immigration movement under the Trump administration," said Elizabeth Alex, senior director of organizing and leadership in CASA.

Participants were arrested for sitting on the East Capitol steps on Wednesday, Dec. 6, in a show of support for children of immigrants.

York County advocates gather with 5,000 in D.C. in support of the DREAM Act on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
(Photo by Michael Fisher, Harrisburg, Pa.)

"Dr. King went to jail, Ghandi went to jail, Jesus went to the desert — it is time for all of us to stand up," Stowell said in a statement released before the rally.

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Each person held up a photo of Dreamers — children of undocumented immigrants who would benefit from the DREAM Act — who chose not to risk participating, Alex said. Many of them attended the rally and looked on from the crowd.

"We were very careful, and our allies stepped up," Alex said. "That's emblematic of where we are as a country right now — people of all stripes stepping up to support Dreamers and immigration." 

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act "allows current, former and future undocumented high school graduates and GED recipients a three-step pathway to U.S. citizenship through college, work or the armed services," according to the American Immigration Council.

It was first introduced by the Obama administration but did not pass. A recent version of the act was introduced in July by Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, the council states.

It is a more permanent solution than the Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals program, which required the children of immigrants to periodically renew their permits to stay in the country, with no opportunity for citizenship.

The Trump Administration announced Sept. 5 that it was discontinuing the program.

No new applications for the program will be accepted, and the administration gave Congress a March deadline to fix the U.S. immigration policy in six months or permits will not be renewed for the current population benefiting from DACA.

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Rally arrests: Those arrested at Wednesday's rally were processed that evening and released, and "we greeted them with coffee and hugs," Alex said, upon their return.  

York County advocates gather with 5,000 in D.C. in support of the DREAM Act on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
(Photo by Michael Fisher, Harrisburg, Pa.)

For the children: The rally was coordinated nationally by Harrisburg-based Service Employees International Union, the Center for Community Change and United We Dream, as well as CASA, a regional, mid-Atlantic organization dedicated to immigrants' rights. 

Alex said there were about 5,000 in attendance, with 400 from Pennsylvania and about 100 from York County.

Eight buses brought supporters from York, Hanover, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Allentown, Reading, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The group hopes to see passage of the DREAM Act and legislation allowing permanent residency for Temporary Protected Status holders — who are granted temporary residency in the United States because of unsafe conditions in their home countries, such as civil war or natural disaster.

Congress plans to discuss immigration before year's end. Thirty-four GOP representatives, including five from Pennsylvania, are urging Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to pass solutions for Dreamers by the end of year, Alex said.

"I am standing up for the Dreamers — the lawyers, health care workers, first responders, military and community workers," Stowell, a Paradise Township resident, said before the rally. "They make America great, as (have) immigrants since the history of our country."

Stowell and Barnes both participated in vigils held by Indivisible York to support immigrants in downtown York City on Friday, Dec. 1.

Barnes, of Springfield Township, has a personal connection to immigration.

"My father immigrated here. So did my husband," she said. "My father was a pediatrician for over 50 years. My husband, Jeremy, an educator for 40 years, is now a beekeeper and a writer. Immigrants have built and enriched our country."

"It has been estimated that if these Dreamers were gone from the workforce, the economy would lose $460.3 billion from the GDP in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions," Barnes wrote in an Op-ed submitted to The York Dispatch. "They pay $2 billion in state and local taxes — $20 million in Pennsylvania alone."