For young undocumented immigrants, the impact of the deal that ended the blink-and-you-missed-it government shutdown is enormous. The compromise that Congress reached early Friday morning will keep the government funded for two years and provide money for community health centers, health care for children from low-income families, disaster relief, and more. But Congress didn’t even touch the question of what to do about undocumented youth who have been protected by DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, since President Donald Trump ended the program last September.
“Well, there was no deal,” Reyna Montoya, a DACA recipient from Arizona, said bluntly when asked how she felt about the Friday-morning agreement. She said Democrats got everything they wanted, except help for young people like herself. Montoya has all but moved to Capitol Hill for the last few months to lobby Congress, and isn’t giving up on the fight yet.
While she and hundreds of undocumented immigrant youth and their allies have been stalking lawmakers from both parties for weeks, on Friday morning Montoya was especially frustrated with the Democrats. Democrats did some impressive public gestures this week; after working for weeks to hammer out a deal with Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gave a record-breaking eight-hour speech on the House floor on Wednesday calling for protections for Dreamers, as undocumented young people are often called. She would not vote for the deal, and in the end many Democrats, led by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and those with presidential aspirations, joined her.
But it all rang a little hollow for Montoya, who said she was on Capitol Hill until 2 am the night prior trying to wrangle support for DACA recipients.
“They go in front of the camera,” Montoya said. “They say they are champions of us, that they want to protect us? But their words are not going to protect me from deportation.”
By Friday afternoon she said she was back at it. Ryan has said he wants to find a resolution for Dreamers, and Montoya intends to hold him to it. And the fight for some kind of protection continues beyond the Beltway.
“It’s disappointing to see so many politicians not follow through, and to see politicians play with our lives,” Catalina Santiago, a 20-year-old DACA recipient from Florida, said Friday morning. Santiago, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha, is preparing to walk from New York City to Washington, DC, next week with 10 other undocumented immigrants. The 11 will walk the 250 miles in what they’ve dubbed The Walk to Stay Home for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
The political debate has become so constrained that the only class of people who could realistically stand to benefit from an immigration deal are undocumented young people, but those who qualify for the Dream Act are a minority of the larger undocumented youth population, and even then, young people are small subset of the broader undocumented population. Santiago said she is walking to remind people this country is her home as well as her family’s.
“We know this struggle goes beyond DACA,” said Santiago, whose own DACA protections expire in November. “But we understand that it starts with us in terms of creating the momentum and trying to change the climate for us to fight for the broader immigrant community.”
While other immigrant-rights activists have undertaken long marches to drum up support for immigrant youth, this march, Santiago said, is the first to happen through the middle of winter.
“We’re willing to do it all to stay home.”