How the Dreamers Learned to Play Politics


Ten years ago, there was no movement. Today, it just might be strong enough to make Donald Trump change his mind.

Within hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions broke the news on Sept. 5 that President Donald Trump was canceling the program known as DACA, protesters were blocking traffic in streets near the White House. In New York, at least 34 demonstrators were arrested for sitting down across Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower. Students walked out of high schools in Denver, Fort Worth, Phoenix and Albuquerque, among many places. The next day, two dozen protesters, properly dressed in business attire, paraded through the lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, chanting, “Here to stay!”

The swift and widespread reaction surprised the White House, but not the Dreamers. Over the past decade, these young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children have built an intensely organized political movement—speaking out, staging demonstrations, building alliances and hounding lawmakers to expand their legal foothold in the United States. Emerging from the undocumented underground, in 2012they wrested a victory from President Barack Obama, by protesting, lobbying and shaming him for his record of aggressive deportations until he used executive authority to create the DACA program, which now shields nearly 800,000 Dreamers from deportation. Since Trump’s election, Dreamers have been busy laying plans to rise up in resistance if he carried through on his campaign pledges to take the program away. Now their careful organization is paying off.

“Our community fought way too hard to get to this moment,” said Adrian Reyna, an organizer for United We Dream, the largest of the immigrant youth organizations, on a conference call with more than 6,000 members from across the country on the night of September 5. The discussion was partly group therapy to console frightened DACA holders, some of them sobbing. But mostly it was a call to the ramparts. “We are resilient,” Reyna reminded them.

“We’re ready,” hundreds of voices shouted down the line.

Until now the Dream movement, even when it was growing, has not always been visible, because of the constant risk that people without legal immigration status could pay for activism with the high price of deportation. The Dream Act, a bill providing a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, from which the Dreamers take their name, was first introduced in Congress in 2001. But for years it languished unnoticed with little popular support.

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