Activists in Houston try to mobilize support for 'Dreamers' as program end date nears
Dec. 05--Hector Angeles loves it here.
He adores the schools and streets. The people and culture. The unity. The diversity -- all of it.
"Everything I know is in Houston," said Angeles, 18, who was brought to the U.S. illegally by his parents as a child.
Angeles is one of the roughly 800,000 so-called "Dreamers" -- including nearly 125,000 in Texas -- who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children but shielded from deportation by the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. In September, President Donald Trump ordered an end to the program and called on Congress to pass a replacement.
Now, Angeles worries that he'll lose everything -- that he'll have to abandon his two younger siblings who were born here; that his pursuit of a double major in physics and computer science at the University of Houston will be cut short; that he'll be forced to move to a strange country where he knows no one.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Angeles said. "I love education, but I am uncertain of what will happen if nothing gets changed."
With Congress expected to vote this week on DACA's future, activists in Texas and across the country are trying to mobilize support for the program and the so-called "Dreamers" it protects.
At UH, volunteers with the national Inside Out/Dreamers Project on Tuesday covered a few walls of the university student union with large, black-and-white photos of students, immigrant and not. The message of the pop-up art installation was simple: "We are all America."
"When you see those pictures of people, you don't know who is or isn't a Dreamer," Jaime Scatena said as he slowly pulled a fresh portrait of a UH student from the printer lodged inside the group's truck. "You realize Dreamers can be just like you."
"We are creating a portrait of America," said Lizzie Lewis of Emerson Collective, a nonprofit advocacy group that helped host the event. "We are all Dreamers."
DACA changed things
Nearby, Maria Garcia, 20, waited to have her photo taken. She, too, was brought to the U.S. as a child from Mexico, and like Angeles was unsure how she'd ever afford college. Then came DACA, and with it work permits, opportunities for some tuition aid and, for the first time in Garcia's life, a sense of normalcy.
Garcia, a UH sophomore, said she's still paying out of pocket for most of her schooling. Still, DACA changed things, she said.
"It made me feel like I didn't have to be fearful," she said.
Republican lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation that would extend DACA for three years. The bill also would slash funding for so-called "sanctuary cities" that don't assist the federal government in deporting immigrants living in the country illegally, as well as allow wall-like "tactical and technological infrastructure" along the U.S.-Mexico border. Another provision would strengthen electronic verification systems for employers and limit green cards for family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
The bill was introduced by Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Activists and Democratic leaders immediately decried the legislation.
"This proposal, as I have told them personally, cannot be considered a good-faith effort to provide protection for the Dreamers, including those who were enrolled in DACA," said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.
Immigration rights advocate Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice Education fund, called it "a witch's brew of nativist poison pills topped by a stingy, temporary three-year reprieve for those with DACA."
"Put bluntly," Sharry continued, "the Grassley-Cornyn bill says, 'give us everything we want in exchange for almost nothing you want, deal?'"
'A lot of momentum'
It's unclear what, exactly, any agreement over DACA might look like ahead of the program's current end date on Friday.
For activists like Lewis, though, the confusion and uncertainty over the program's future often has felt entirely unnecessary. As Lewis noted, virtually all public polling shows widespread support for allowing Dreamers to stay in the country, and many colleges and businesses have said a full repeal of the program would have serious consequences on their operations.
Still, Lewis said it's been inspiring to see the many diverse people she said have attended events in support of DACA and other immigration issues.
"There's a lot of momentum," she said.
Among the most important things, she and others said, has been watching people interact with those they may not have known were immigrants or Dreamers.
"One of the things we dismiss is this notion that all immigrants are all criminals or Mexican," said Paola Ramos, of the Emerson Collective. "All it takes is that exposure. It's one thing to hear about (immigrants) on TV or from Trump. "
Angeles and Garcia, meanwhile, said their uncertain futures will not deter their fight for more permanent immigration changes.
"We came here to follow that American dream," Angeles said. "We dropped everything for a better life."
"We are people," he continued. "We are trying to fight the good fight."
Kevin Diaz contributed to this report.