At a UC Irvine rally for young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday continued her push for a measure to provide them with permanent legal status — a “clean” bill unfettered by stricter immigration enforcement provisions called for by the White House.
Democratic House and Senate leaders have said they are open to including some border security measures in a Dream Act that would provide legal status, but Harris and other speakers said Wednesday that there should be no such strings attached and a path to citizenship is an essential part of such legislation.
“This is about a fight for the future of this country, believing in the values upon which this country was founded,” said the freshman Democratic senator from San Francisco, whose profile has been rising since taking office in January and who is regularly mentioned as a possible 2020 presidential candidate.
“The path right now is rocky. It is difficult. It is hard,” Harris said. “We are witnessing things that we can only describe as awful and wrong, and mean-spirited. But that’s OK … Because we know this is about doing the right thing. We know this is about all the young people, who were brought here, some before they could walk or talk.”
Harris was loudly cheered by the heavily immigrant crowd of roughly 200, while about 15 counter-demonstrators shouted their opposition to new provisions for those in the country illegally as well as their opposition to Harris.
President Barack Obama’s 2012 directive known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, provided temporary legal status for some 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children. President Donald Trump announced Sept. 5 that DACA would be terminated in six months, with the delay intended to give Congress time to pass a measure addressing DACA recipients.
On Sunday, the White House issued a “framework” for such legislation, with provisions including a wall along the southern border, 10,000 new immigration agents, tougher rules for those seeking asylum and a crackdown on unaccompanied minors entering the country from Central America.
While Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a joint statement flatly dismissing the demands, they said that they were open to “reasonable border security measures.” That was a reiteration of a position that didn’t sit well last month with young immigrants at a college event attended by Pelosi in San Francisco, which saw the congresswoman make an early departure after being shouted down by those concerned that she was too willing to compromise.
Harris, on the other hand, was clearly seen as an ally by most on hand Wednesday, including the clergy, faculty and DACA students — a blend of Koreans and Latinos — who also spoke.
“We did not migrate to this country to sabotage this land, but to prosper with it,” said Ming Jun “Jenny” Park, a DACA recipient and fourth-year psychological major.
Several speakers called on the area’s congresswoman, Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach, to sign on as a co-sponsor to the current version of Dream Act introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R- S.C., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill. Harris is already a co-sponsor of the measure, which would give permanent legal status to those covered by DACA and a path to citizenship for those in college, the military or who are otherwise employed.
The issue of citizenship has stopped many Republicans from supporting the measure so far. While Walters and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, have both said they support legal status for DACA recipients, Walters has not taken a position on a path to citizenship and Royce has been opposed to such a provision.
When the crowd Wednesday was asked how many had served as translators for their parents, approximately one third raised their hands.
But there was also a scattering of red “Make America Great Again” hats and people holding signs that “Deport dreamers and their parents,” “Build the wall, keep them out” and “Defund sanctuary cities.” Among them, wearing a Trump t-shirt, was Raul Rodriguez Jr., who drove from his home in Apple Valley to attend and was openly scornful of the crowd.
“They’re radical, anti-Trump socialists,” said the 75-year-old retiree.
But Harris told Rodriguez and his fellow protesters that they were on the wrong side of history, and encouraged the Dreamers to continue the effort.
“All great movements come through students,” she said. “You are inspiring us. We are going to see this through. We will get to the right place. … It’s just a matter of time. Keep fighting.”
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