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Immigration activists are about to put “everything on the line" for DACA

Senators Leave Capitol Hill For Summer Break Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Monica Camacho-Perez’s parents abandoned their home and family in Mexico and brought her to the US when she was 7 years old.

Starting Tuesday, she will camp outside the US Capitol and fast for four straight days in the hope that doing so will help convince lawmakers to allow her to stay.

“I can’t let my father’s sacrifice go to waste,” said Camacho-Perez, 23, in an interview. “I have to fight to protect everything my parents fought to give me.”

On Sunday, Politico reported that Trump has decided to end the the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects DREAMers — unauthorized immigrants brought to the US as children or young teenagers — from deportation.

Activists have spent weeks coming up with emergency plans in case Trump eliminates or cripple DACA, which would make 800,000 young immigrants vulnerable to deportation.

They’re now setting those plans into motion. “We’re ready for a national emergency call to action,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, the advocacy director of United We Dream, an immigration advocacy organization with more than 100,000 members and 55 chapters, last week. “Any Republicans or Democrats not on our side better believe we’ll be at their offices, in their churches, and wherever they get their late-night drinks to make sure they know what’s at stake and that we wont go away until the rights of immigrants are protected and safe.”

The outside game: Fasts, rallies, demonstrations planned over DACA

At a meeting last week, immigration activists decided on one emergency strategy in case Trump ends DACA.

“We had this moment of, ‘What is our last ditch-effort to fight this? What can we do to show we’re putting everything on the line?,’” said Jasmine Nazarett, of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement. “And the answer we settled on was fasting.”

On Monday, fasters from Maryland, Florida, Arkansas, Alabama, New York, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts arrived in Washington, DC. They’ll sleep tonight together at the Lutheran Church near the US Capitol, and then wake up with a light breakfast of toast and fruit for their last meal, potentially, of the week, according to Nazarett.

Then the fasters will head to the Capitol, where thousands of demonstrators are expected to join them over the course of the week.

"I want them to see that we’re not criminals and that we love this country and we’re here to work and do good," said Camacho-Perez, one of the fasters. "I want them to try to imagine what they'd do if they were in our shoes."

A team of nurses will be on hand to ensure the fasters’ health and safety. They are mostly DREAMers, though some spouses of DREAMers are also fasting, according to Nazarett.

The fast outside the Captiol will likely be just the most high-profile act of resistance. Organizers are also planning a campaign of calls, street marches, and vigils, including one outside the White House at noon. More than 10 similar DACA protests have been planned around the country for Tuesday. The group COSECHA is planning a “take over” demonstration of Trump Tower in New York City on Tuesday morning.

The inside game: taking the fight to Congress directly

So far, those campaigning to save DACA have held off on taking the fight to Congress because they fear it would play into Trump’s hands.

That’s partly out of fear that doing so would give cover to the White House to say that Congress bears responsibility for protecting these undocumented immigrants. One conservative argument against DACA is that President Obama’s White House overstepped in its authority in creating the program. Immigrants activists worry they would risk appearing to agree by asking Congress to intervene.

They also aren’t willing to give up on Trump changing his mind. “We’ve been trying to push the administration to save this program, so we don’t need a legislative fix,” said Angel Padilla, a spokesperson for Indivisible, a left-wing resistance group. “That’s been the focus for now. We don’t want to give Trump the cover to say, ‘See, I don’t have the authority to keep this program in place, and it’s up to Congress.”

Of course, that calculus changes if Trump follows through on his threat to end DACA. Then the best chance at stopping him likely lies in legislation that would give DREAMers not just protection from deportation, but give them a path to citizenship.

Activists are readying an all-out push to pressure Democrats and Republicans to back S-1615, the latest Senate version of the DREAM Act, which would provide a direct path to citizenship for DACA recipients. The bill was introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and cosponsored by two other Republicans — Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — as well as four Senate Democrats.

The main push will be to get Republican lawmakers to feel enough heat that they back Graham’s bill or something close to it. Immigrant groups like United We Dream and the Church World Service have prepared scripts for DACA’s defenders to use when calling their members and urging them to save the program.

“Everyone on the Democratic caucus is on the same page that the DREAM Act is our first preference — it's bicameral, it's bipartisan, comprehensive in nature and the best path for forward,” a senior aide for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said.

Another CHC aide, speaking on background, said the caucus held a conference call this week to discuss its emergency reaction strategy should DACA be rescinded. He noted that Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) was arrested at the White House in protests celebrating DACA, and speculated that similar tactics would be employed this time.

The resistance prepares for self-defense

Over the past few months, Javier Valdes and his organization Make the Road have trained families how to be ready if ICE agents arrive at their door.

“Part of it is about having a conversation ahead of time with your sister, your brother, your aunt, or your grandparent, or your neighbor: ‘Will you take on the responsibility for watching my children if I get taken away?,’” Valdes said. “It is, of course, the hardest conversation.”

Valdes is prepared to dramatically accelerate these trainings if an additional 1 million immigrants become subject to deportation in case DACA gets rescinded. “These trainings will make us go into overdrive and try to make sure as many people are trained in their rights as possible,” Valdes said. “We’re preparing families for the moment ICE knocks on your door.”

The moment Trump touches the program, immigration activists say that their very first step would be to literally congregate in public squares to shelter in numbers. “We want to make sure people have spaces to be together and feel safe — which means mass vigils and mass gatherings,” said Maria Fernanda Cabello, a volunteer organizer with Cosecha.

Trump may have the first move. But immigration activists say he won’t have the last.

“We’ll all congregate in the same office where we saw him clinch the presidency in CNN,” said Martinez Rosa, of United We Dream. “There will be some tears and some anger. And then we’ll ground ourselves by executing our plan to defend our program.”

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