WASHINGTON — Less than 24 hours after the Supreme Court declined to hear a case on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a few dozen of more than 100 Catholic leaders and activists were arrested Tuesday in a Senate office building as they demanded that lawmakers find a permanent solution for dreamers quickly.
“We find the clock ticking and DACA nearing its conclusion,” said Roman Catholic Bishop John Stowe, who traveled to Washington from Lexington, Kentucky. “We have to insist that it is not a time to wait around anymore.”
President Donald Trump ended the program, which provided temporary visas and work permits to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, but told Congress it should find a way to help the young adults whose status was put in limbo by the decision. The Trump administration had pushed for the Supreme Court to bypass the appellate courts and rule on his DACA decision ahead of the program’s March 5 expiration.
Because the court declined, the appeal of a lower court ruling against the Trump order will be heard by the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California. It it may take months for the court to hear the case; meanwhile the lower court order blocking Trump from ending the program means the 700,000 dreamers with temporary permits may apply and receive renewals, but the government does not have to accept new applicants.
Although 52 percent of voting Catholics chose Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, demonstrators said that passing a DREAM Act to provide a path to citizenship for dreamers is an urgent “moral issue,” calling the DACA program a temporary solution. An overwhelming majority of Hispanic Catholics voted for Clinton, who said she would defend DACA and push for a path to citizenship during the campaign.
“Members of Congress and President Trump have said they support the ‘dreamers’ and promised action, but they have failed to act,” said Sister Elise Garcia, a leader of the Dominican Sisters in Adrian, Michigan. “That failure of moral leadership leaves hundreds and thousands of young men and women hanging in limbo in danger of deportation from the only country they know as home.”
After praying and protesting outside the Russell Senate Office Building across from the Capitol, protesters moved into the building’s rotunda, holding banners that said “Catholics Stand with Dreamers.” Dozens of activists were arrested by Capitol Police. As they were escorted out, many raised their fists in protest.
“Arrest a nun, not a dreamer,” said Garcia, who was among those arrested.
Speaking with the young activists before the arrests, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that Democrats are trying to fight for dreamers, but have found it difficult to negotiate with the White House and congressional Republicans. Ahead of the government shutdown in January, Durbin, along with Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., proposed a bipartisan immigration bill that would have made DACA permanent and appropriated billions toward border security, but it was rejected by Trump.
“You give me two million lives, I’ll give you your damn truck of bricks,” Durbin said, speaking about the concessions included in the bill. While demonstrators said they wanted a “clean” DREAM Act that didn’t give in to Republican demands, Durbin pointed to Democrats’ minority status in Congress. “The reality is 49-51,” he said, urging them to vote in the 2018 midterm elections based on their passion for immigration reform.