Last Friday, on the corner of 69th and Fifth, Bay Ridge resident Alex Pelletieri cradled a candle from the damp evening air. He was one of two dozen residents who had come out for a candlelight vigil to show support for immigrants, DREAMers and the #Dream7, a group of DACA recipients (and one ally) who had recently been arrested. Pelletieri spoke about his mother, how she came to this country from Honduras without knowing anyone. “She came to the States for the opportunities that she never would have had growing up,” he said, adding, about the DREAMers, “We shouldn’t criminalize them as a nation. This issue transcends politics. It’s about protecting our neighbors.”
Members of #Dream7 on December 15 had staged a protest at the offices of Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Congressmember Carlos Curbelo, demanding they block any spending bill that failed to include a clean DREAM Act. (In September, Trump rescinded DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, an executive action by Obama that allowed people brought to the country as children by undocumented guardians to avoid deportation and find jobs and housing.) During the protest, the Dreamers refused to identify themselves to law enforcement, thus risking detention and even deportation, in an effort to raise awareness of the plight of all those now put at risk by the Trump administration.
Just prior to the Bay Ridge vigil, the seven young people were released from jail, but protests, actions and vigils continued citywide. Participants at the Bay Ridge vigil took turns speaking about why they were there and what immigration means to them.
“This is not the America that my grandfather came to when he was 13-years-old. America has open doors for a reason, and that is a history that we cannot forget,” said Andrew Gounardes, Bay Ridge resident and candidate next year for state senate against Marty Golden, who spoke about what the issue means to him as a Greek–American. “Dreamers are American through and through. To call them the ‘other’ and cast them out is not only wrong, it’s plain awful.”
“Immigrants have been under attack in this country for a very, very long time,” said Yasmine Kamel, a member of Bay Ridge for Social Justice. It was under the previous administration, she noted, that three million people were deported. “I am an immigrant myself,” she said. “Governments are more than happy to exploit workers overseas and sell their products over here. They’re more than happy to have corporations travel back and forth to their hearts’ content, but when it comes to workers who created that wealth, they punish them.”
The group ended by saying the names of the #Dream7 and chanting in support while curious onlookers expressed sympathy.
Congress recently passed a short-term spending bill without a clean DREAM act, delaying the final decision about whether or not to include it until December 22. But the day came and went as lawmakers punted until the New Year, leaving almost 900,000 DACA recipients increasingly insecure. Such half-measures, delays and empty promises have characterized immigration policy in the U.S. for years, fueling frustration among activists.
DACA was enacted in response to congress’ ongoing failure to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Minors Act (or DREAM Act), which would have provided a path to citizenship for a narrow set of qualifying immigrants. The inability to pass any kind of commonsense and humane immigration policy has been a hallmark of both political parties for decades. In the absence of even so much as robust debate, we instead get fatuous solutions such as impossible-to-build walls and Muslim bans. Meanwhile, millions of people live under constant threat of their families’ being torn apart.
The event was organized by Bay Ridge for Social Justice and was in support of the larger organizing efforts of the #OurDream cause. On Saturday, at Grand Army Plaza, another protest organized by #OurDream targeted Schumer’s Park Slope residence.