Richard Birkel, executive director of Catholic Charities, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Daysi Bedolla, Eastern Oregon University student body president, hear from a group concerned about the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Richard Birkel, executive director of Catholic Charities, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Daysi Bedolla, Eastern Oregon University student body president, hear from a group concerned about the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
A group of young Latino activists met this morning with Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley at Catholic Charities offices in Southeast Portland. The young people shared their hopes and frustrations about the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and asked the Democratic senators what they were doing to promote passage of the bill, which expires in March.

Many in the group defended their parents, who had brought them to the United States. They also said they wanted only a clean Dream Act — not one that was tied to compromises such as building a wall between the United States and Mexico that would further divide their families.

Today’s date — Oct. 6 — is a month after President Donald Trump rescinded DACA, known as the Dream Act. It’s five months before the young students and workers will begin to lose their protection and work permits if Congress does not act.

Archbishop Alexander Sample has joined the nation’s bishops in denouncing DACA’s end. “It is not just a bureaucratic decision, but one that impacts the lives and tramples on the hopes and dreams of many young people,” the archbishop said in a joint archdiocesan and Catholic Charities statement Sept. 5.

“I haven’t slept in a month,” said one young woman, who visibly struggled to keep her composure. “I have nightmares about ICE coming and arresting me.”

In line with her fears about Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the woman’s nametag at the table read only FOX.

“We cannot ring in the New Year without ringing the bells on this bill,” agreed Sen. Merkley. “We must pass it.”

“There’s urgency,” said Sen. Wyden, who added that he was concerned about the personal information that the young people had given in order to be a part of DACA that could now be used against them and their families.

President Barack Obama established DACA in June 2012. The act allowed people who had come to the United States under the age of 16 to apply for renewable two-year periods of deferred action on deportation.

The young people at the session were representative of the 800,000 nationwide (11,300 in Oregon) who took a chance on the Dream Act, giving all their personal information to the government and paying a $495 application fee in return for work permits and escaping deportation.

Liliana Luna, a Portland Community College student and multicultural coordinator, told the senators that she was exhausted and angry.

“We’re tired,” she said. “We want to get this done. But we have shared our stories so many times it’s hard to share again.”

Merkley assured Luna and the others that their stories had made a difference at countless town halls across the country, both in rural and urban areas. The Dreamers’ speaking out had built a foundation, he said, that made it possible to pass legislation that would make a difference.

“We’re going to keep organizing,” Luna said, adding that they would hold politicians accountable for their votes on immigration issues.

While almost three-quarters of all Dreamers were born in Mexico or Central America, the rest come from around the entire world. Djimet Dogo, executive director of Africa House, had a seat at the table in the discussion with the senators. He told them about an African family whose sick child received life-saving treatment in Oregon, and who overstayed their visa to save their child’s life. “Look at the humanity,” he urged the senators.

Dogo reminded the group of a Texan Dreamer, Alonso Guillen, who drowned in September after the boat he and two friends were using to rescue hurricane victims crashed into a bridge and went under.

Merkley noted that economists have warned that deporting the Dreamers would hurt Oregon’s economy and businesses.

On Sept. 6, Oregon became one of 16 states suing to block the end of DACA. Many polls show broad bipartisan support for it.