As Congress works to pass legislation that would allow DACA recipients to legally stay in the country, there’s been a question of compromise, with some Republican politicians pushing for increased border security as part of the deal.
In a press call Wednesday morning, Wisconsin activists said they won’t stand for compromise, insisting Wisconsinites put pressure on Paul Ryan for “clean” legislation that allows DACA recipients to stay without any border security add-ons.
“We want a clean bill, we don't want a trade,” Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said. “We’re not willing to trade DACAs for their parents, DACAs for their siblings, DACAs for the wall.”
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA is the policy enacted by former President Barack Obama that protects immigrants who entered the country without documentation as children.
Congress has until March, when DACA ends, to pass the Dream Act, which would return legal status to DACA recipients. Wisconsin has about 7,500 DACA recipients.
Madisonians met the DACA news with action. They showed up the Capitol as part of a “Defend DACA” march, Centro Hispano rethought its fall fundraiser and a free immigration legal clinics expanded its hours.
Statewide, there have been similar protests: activists held a hunger strike outside of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Racine office and educational institutions have issued statements in support of dreamers, said Christine Neumann Ortiz, director of Voces de la Frontera. Voces is an immigrant rights organization.
Neumann Ortiz urged the community keep up the pressure to make sure a “clean” bill is passed that would return legal status to DACA recipients without increasing border security or deportations. She likened this to using DACA recipients as a bargaining chip against their parents.
Ryan’s position on immigration has changed in the past, Neumann-Ortiz said, showing that he is “sensitive to the political winds.”
Asked whether it would be better to accept a bill with some compromises rather leave some 800,000 people subject to deportation, Neumann-Ortiz pointed to a poll that found 78 percent of registered voters support allowing DACA recipients to stay in the country.
“It’s not necessary to do any kind of trading when there is that much strong support,” Neumann-Ortiz said, saying it would be “giving things away when you don't need to.”
She added that catering to white supremacist sentiment is a “slippery slope.”
Soglin also took time on the call to refute what he called “the false narrative” that immigrants are subsidized by the rest of the county and a drain on resources.
Ilse Merlin, a DACA recipient, activist and resident in Paul Ryan’s district, highlighted this point. Merlin described her history as an excellent student, “getting good grades, being on my best behavior, always turning in homework, always on the honor roll.”
But when she started applying for college, without a Social Security number, she was denied financial aid, government grants, and a PEOPLE program scholarship. Instead of attending UW-Madison, which was financially unfeasible, Merlin got an associate’s degree at a community college. She now works in education.
“We are here, it’s not just to benefit ourselves, it's not just to benefit our families, but it’s to benefit our communities,” she said.
Soglin pointed to the economic contributions immigrants make to the community. He said an estimated 50 percent of Wisconsin dairy workers are immigrants or children of immigrants. In Madison, he said that health care, service industry and tech companies also rely on immigrant labor.
Neumann Ortiz urged Wisconsinites to keep up the action for DACA recipients and call Ryan’s office.
“DACA was won because of grassroots pressure from below, and the Dream Act will be won the same way,” she said.