Dreamers, allies demand passage of a “clean” Dream Act
Protesters in San Francisco, September 5, 2017. By Pax Ahimsa Gethen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

WASHINGTON—Dreamers and their allies, including union leaders, reacted cautiously to the latest developments – a reported deal between GOP President Donald Trump and a bipartisan group of top lawmakers — in the fight to keep some 700,000 Dreamers in the U.S. for good.

That’s because they “haven’t seen anything on paper yet,” says one top union organizer, Maria Rosa Lopez of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324 in California.

“Maybe after next week, we’ll see something so we can take a message to our members of Congress and state officials” about the fate of the Dreamers, she says of the several dozen of them she talked with.

But the lack of specificity isn’t stopping the Dreamers and their union allies in their campaign to pass a clean “Dream Act,” giving permanent residence and a path to eventual citizenship to the Dreamers: Workers, students, collegians and military personnel brought to the U.S. as undocumented children.

Those youngsters, many now in their late teens, 20s and 30s, came out of the shadows under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but Trump dumped DACA last year and plans to deport Dreamers starting March 5.

Those deportation plans may yet be on hold

Not only are Trump and lawmakers discussing the Dream Act, but U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco issued an injunction Jan. 9 stopping Trump’s planned deportations, pending a full-scale trial on the issue. Meanwhile Trump and the lawmakers supposedly agreed, but only after a lot of back-and-forth over details and other issues in a 90-minute meeting. At one point, Trump backed a clean Dream Act. At another, he didn’t. And in a tweet Trump, as usual, harshly criticized the judge.

And their “deal” from the White House meeting still faces at least three big hangups: Trump and GOP insistence that Congress provide $18 billion over the next few years to build Trump’s Mexican Wall along the southern U.S. border, rank-and-file Republican resistance, and an edict from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., barring the Dream Act from a temporary money bill to keep the government going.

Lawmakers must pass that measure by Jan. 19, and Trump needs Democratic votes to help get it through. Attaching a clean Dream Act – without the wall or anything else – is the Dems’ price so far.

All this leaves United We Dream, the main organization of the Dreamers, in a wait-and-see-and-lobby-for-a-clean bill attitude. Ditto for unionists interviewed out in the field.

“Congress should deliver a straightforward solution now and stop playing games!” Adrian Reyna, Dream Act campaign manager for United We Dream, said. “Trump said Congress should deliver ‘a bill of love’ and that bill is called the bipartisan Dream Act. We have until Jan. 19 to get this done.”

Besides McConnell’s stalling, not all lawmakers — and particularly few of Congress’ ruling Republicans — are on board. Some lawmakers “proposed short term band-aids, some have proposed racist laundry lists and some are trying to blow up the whole process with poison pills,” Reyna noted.

“The answer has been staring us in the face for years: If you came to this country under the age of 18 and meet the requirements of the Dream Act, you should qualify.”  That means passing a clean Dream Act, she declared.

Unions agree for both moral reasons and practical reasons

“The federation keeps supporting a clean Dream Act that has a road to citizenship and workers’ protections,” said Gonzalo Salvador, the AFL-CIO’s spokesman on those issues. But, like the other groups and individuals involved, the fed is still waiting for actual legislation to react to.

“You don’t know where he’s going” on the issue, Salvador said of Trump.

There’s a practical reason to pass the Dream Act, too, say both UFCW’s Lopez and Iowa AFL-CIO President Ken Sagar: The Dreamers fill jobs in areas with a shortage of skilled workers in various fields, and will continue to do so once they’re sure they can stay in the country.

The Dreamers Lopez talked with about the Trump-Congress Dream Act talks “were very happy” about the progress, “but that covers only their work permit, not permanent residence,” she reported.

Her Dreamers, including dental assistants, retail clerks and butchers, “realize it’ll only cover people who already applied” to extend their DACA permits. “Those who didn’t apply, can’t. That train is gone.”

Meanwhile, on Jan. 8, Painters President Kenneth Rigmaiden launched an education program for his union’s immigrant members, including Dreamers, on DACA, the Dream Act, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) workers – another immigrant group – and wage theft from all of them.

The Painters “see attacks on immigrant workers as an attack on labor as well as an attack on the economy.”

“These actions against immigrant workers and their families will do nothing more than push hard working members and families back into the shadows and to the vast contractor pool without a voice or representation,” the union said.

Sagar says Iowans – Dreamers and non-Dreamers – want to see the undocumented youth stay. One reason is Dreamers help the state’s small towns stay alive. “In my home, Marshalltown, we have 25,000-30,000 people – and if it wasn’t for immigrants,” including Dreamers, “there would be a lot of vacancies on the storefronts on Main Street,” he said.

To ensure the Dreamers stay, the Iowa AFL-CIO set up a Jan. 9 meeting with state legislators, drawing representatives from Hispanic-American and Asian-American groups from all over the Hawkeye State. The objective: To convince state lawmakers to lobby their federal counterparts to pass the Dream Act.

Iowans may be a key to that struggle. The most anti-Hispanic lawmaker in Congress is northwestern Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King. And GOP Sen. Charles Grassley chairs the Judiciary Committee, which normally handles immigration legislation. Grassley was in the White House meeting, where Trump and the other leaders also discussed long-term fixes to the nation’s immigration system.

“Congress must not fund Trump’s vanity wall and give in to this thinly veiled attempt to divide us,” Service Employees Executive Vice President Rocio Sáenz added in a statement. “Instead, they must act now to keep the government open, and pass legislation to protect Dreamers and TPS holders from Trump’s mass deportation machinery.”

The Dreamers’ fate is one of two immigration issues pitting workers, most of them black or brown, against Trump, most of Congress’ majority Republicans, and their nativist anti-Hispanic and often anti-black backers and voters.

The other is the fate of several hundred thousand people, refugees from earthquakes, floods, other natural disasters and sometimes rampant crime and civil war. They were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for years to live and work in this country.

But unlike the Dreamers, the TPS recipients – Haitians, Salvadorans, Libyans and Hondurans among them – re-register periodically, paying $500-$700 each time, for “blue cards.” Nevertheless, Trump is throwing them out of the country, too.

United We Dream may still not trust Trump. Its spokeswoman, Greisa Martinez Rosas, said in a statement the president and his aides are conducting “a vendetta against brown and black people” by pushing “their anti-immigrant wish list.” That “wish list” includes DACA’s end, the Dreamer and TPS deportations and the administration’s crackdown on “sanctuary cities” and states that help Dreamers and the undocumented stay in the U.S. Those cities and states include New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and California’s state government.

‘We are losing protection in waves every week” as prior Dream Act permits expire, Martinez Rosas explained. “Millions today have no protection at all. We are calling on Democrats to use all of their leverage to get the Dream Act passed along with the spending bill, and we are calling on Republicans to stop blocking this common sense solution. The majority of Americans support protecting immigrant youth and it’s past time Congress get it done.”

She also said the Dreamers will hit the streets again. “This is our home and we are here to stay.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.