Jewish demonstrators hold Capitol Hill sit-in for Dreamers

More than 100 Jews demonstrated in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington on Wednesday in support of the passage of the Dream Act. Photo by Dan Schere

More than 100 Jews were arrested Wednesday while demonstrating inside the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington. In what organizers called an act of civil disobedience, demonstrators called on legislators to pass the Dream Act, which would grant temporary residency to children of undocumented immigrants, and an eventual path to citizenship.

“We are here, and we’re not going to be moved until we get a clean Dream Act,” said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, which co-sponsored the rally with the Jewish social justice organization Bend the Arc. “We’re not leaving until we get it. And if we have to be removed, we’ll be removed.”

For an hour, demonstrators sat close together on the floor of the rotunda while swaying shoulder-to-shoulder and singing social justice-themed songs such as “We shall not be moved” and “Olam Chesed Yibaneh.” One-by-one, members of the United States Capitol Police led demonstrators away from the scene, where they were charged with demonstrating in a non-permitted area — a misdemeanor that carries a $50 fine, according to Capt. Eric Keenan.

Under the legislation, an estimated 800,000 so-called Dreamers, who were previously protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), would be protected, according to media reports. President Donald Trump phased out the program in September. Both the House and Senate are considering separate versions of the bill.

Separately, Sens Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are leading a bipartisan effort in Congress to make a deal with Trump that would revive DACA. Congress faces a Friday deadline to pass a temporary spending bill in order to avert a partial government shutdown, and some Democrats have threatened to vote against it if Republicans do not agree to include a provision that addresses immigration. Although the details are still up in the air, the deal being proposed would include a 12-year path to citizenship for ex-DACA recipients, but also include a $1.6 billion down payment for a wall along the United States-Mexico border, which Trump has proposed.

The latter condition was not one that any at Wednesday’s rally supported in any immigration legislation, including Elias Rosenfeld, a Jewish “Dreamer” and sophomore at Brandeis University.

“What we’re talking about is feasible border security, not full funding of a border wall,” he said before participating in the protest.

Rosenfeld, who immigrated to the United States from Venezuela with his mother on a temporary work visa when he was 6, was previously protected under DACA. But if no deal is reached, or the DREAM Act is not passed by August, he could face deportation.

“I could lose my eligibility to work and my eligibility to drive if a DREAM Act is not passed,” he said.

Among those who briefly joined the protests but were not arrested were Reps. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). Wasserman Schultz said in an interview before the protest that she was optimistic Congress could pass a bipartisan bill that included funding for border security, but not a wall.

“I’m supportive of anything we can do that will not support a law that is going to send the wrong message by irresponsibly spending taxpayer dollars on something completely unnecessary and that sends millions of people who have been welcomed for generations into our country,” she said.

As police arrested demonstrators, Igor Tregub watched from the sidelines. A Jewish Berkeley, Calif., resident, Tregub said he originally was from Ukraine.

“As an immigrant who came here with my family so that we would have an opportunity to make a better life for ourselves, I would love for everyone to have that same opportunity that I was given,” he said.

North Kensington resident Michael Bloom, who also watched the protest, called immigration an “issue of human dignity.”

“In the case of the Dreamers, this is the country they have known since their childhood,” he said. “To banish them from their country is to banish them from their promised land to a land they don’t know. That kind of thinking is just cruel.”

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