Courageous Indian DACA recipient Chirayu Patel addresses press conference on Capitol Hill urging Congress to legalize ‘Dreamers’
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, September 14, 2017 – Several prominent Democratic lawmakers stepped onto the expansive grounds of the US Capitol, on a beautiful day for late summer, pledging to pass a clean DREAM Act which would provide legal status to young undocumented immigrants who came to America as children.
In the forefront was Congresswoman Judy Chu of California spearheading a press conference organized by the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) which she chairs. “It was only last week that President Trump issued one of the cruelest orders he ever could – the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) causing 800,000 people to face deportation to a country that they do not even know”, she bemoaned.
The lawmaker noted that among the DACA recipients (called Dreamers) are over 3,000 from India, more than 7,000 from South Korea, nearly 5,000 from the Philippines, some 2,000 from Pakistan, and thousands of others who are Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs). “They all deserve a chance to achieve the American dream”, she underscored.
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national civil rights and racial justice organization, estimates that an additional 17,000 individuals from India are eligible for DACA which places India in the top ten countries for DACA eligibility. With the termination of the program, these individuals could face deportation at the discretion of the Trump administration.
As things stand, the dreamers will be allowed to work for six months during which time the President has asked Congress to pass a bill that addresses them.
Noting that “Sixty percent of Trump supporters support DACA students”, Congresswoman Chu told reporters, “President Trump is feeling the pressure of the American people and the outrage of the American people, that is why he said six months” for Congress to pass legislation on the issue.
“We will fight for the 800,000 dreamers, including the 130,000 API dreamers, who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own”, she vowed. “We will use every means possible to pass a DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act bill and that means starting with votes on such a bill in September”.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that while the President thinks that giving six months time to Congress to legalize DACA is appropriate, “we are going to do that sooner. We are going to do it within six weeks and hopefully we can do it by supporting the Dream Act that is in the House and Senate. In doing so, we are not only protecting the dreamers, we are protecting the integrity of our country”, she said.
The influential lawmaker noted, “Dreamers are perpetuating, advancing the American dream with their courage, optimism, and inspiration. They make America more American”.
About “the fight” to prevent the dreamers from being deported, she affirmed, it is about “who we are as a country”. Thanking the dreamers “for being stronger than anybody, she said, “they are the manifestation of that fight”.
Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii who holds the distinction of being the first Asian immigrant woman to serve in the upper chamber of Congress, noted that “Dreamers come from all walks of life, from so many different countries including Asian countries. About ten percent of those who are eligible to become dreamers are from Asian countries”, she said. “But, we know that many of them have not stepped forward because they may have a greater fear of the government” having information which could track them down.
Among the dreamers who courageously came forward at the press conference was Chirayu Patel, co-founder of the Chicago-based DACA Network which serves as a forum for dreamers providing legal and employment-related information.
Patel was 11 when he came to the US from India, in September 1994, on a visa with his family.
“We have been trying to resolve our immigration status for over 23 years now”, he told reporters. “My parents have paid income taxes, property taxes and business taxes. Without a change in law, there is no way for my brother and I who are in undocumented status to become legal permanent residents and citizens of the US”.
Over the years, the Patels built a life in the US. Chirayu and his brother attended elementary school, middle school, high school and colleges, graduating with honors. His brother received a doctorate in pharmacy.
The family was hopeful that they could eventually earn American citizenship when President Obama enacted the DACA program in 2012. “However, last week’s decision by President Trump turns the whole thing upside down”, Chirayu said at the press conference.
“We do not want to be used as bargaining chips in political gamesmanship between the parties”, he asserted. “We are requesting that Congress pass a clean Dream Act as soon as possible. Congress must decide whether it is going to support us or stand in the way of progress”.
House Democratic Caucus Co-Chair Joe Crowley pledged his full support to pass a clean Dream Act. “We will not stop”, he promised. “Our caucus will not stop. We will find whatever vehicle we need to get this bill passed”.
The lawmaker decried President Trump’s decision to end DACA. “What the President did last week was immoral: to use young people who are striving to make the most of their lives as cultural Americans and give back to this great country that has given so much opportunity to them”, he told reporters.
“They are cultural ambassadors, over 800,000 of them. They are called dreamers. The truth is we are all dreamers”, he said. “Every American is a dreamer. That is what our country is based on: immigrant dreamers who have come here to make America the great country that it was, that it is, and that it will always be”.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington spoke of the harmful impact of rescinding the DACA program and how beneficial it would be if Congress passes the 2017 Dream Act.
“It is personal for me because I am an immigrant who came here with nothing in my pocket and today stand here as the first Indian-American woman ever elected to the House of Representatives”, she said at the press conference. “But, it is also political. For the last 20 years, I was on the outside leading a political advocacy group (Hate Free Zone) that has fought not only for the Dream Act, but for comprehensive immigration reform”.
She added, “Immigration has always been who we are as a country and what we are willing to stand up for”.
Congresswoman Chu noted, “America has always been the land of immigrants. It was built by immigrants. In the past, America has been the land that values diversity and tolerance. But, we have seen a very disturbing turn in the last six months and that was with the start of the Trump presidency. He has made xenophobic comments against immigrants and it has caused all these other people to come out of the woodwork like white supremacists. They have held rallies, taken strong stances against immigrants. It is very disturbing. We have to uphold the Statue of Liberty and be the country that is welcoming of refugees and immigrants”, she said.
Regarding Republican support for the Dream Act, Congresswoman Chu spoke of getting a discharge petition signed. “If we get 218 members of the House to sign it, we can force a vote on the floor”, she told us. “We have 194 Democrats; we need to get 24 Republicans”.
The lawmaker was hopeful. She noted, Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo of Miami has his own version of the Dream Act bill with 27 GOP co-sponsors. “They are open to the idea of having our Dream Act students have legal status”, she said. “Already, two Republicans have signed our Dream Act bill. So, I see some hope. I think there are Republicans in moderate districts who know that they have to support our Dreamers”.
On hand at the Capitol Hill event was Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT, who underscored the imperativeness of Congress passing a clean Dream Act.
“This administration’s heartless, endless efforts to target and marginalize immigrant communities makes the immediate passage of a clean Dream Act all the more urgent”, she said. “SAALT joins congressional leadership in staunch support of the immediate passage of the Dream Act, and we call on all elected and appointed officials to defend our communities through their words and actions”.