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The Democratic debate protesters were DACA recipients

They told us they want action before the Supreme Court rules on the program allowing them to live in the US.

Protesters were escorted from the Democratic debate stage at Texas Southern University’s Health and PE Center in Houston, Texas, on Thursday night.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Four beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program giving legal protections for young unauthorized immigrants, interrupted Joe Biden’s closing remarks during the Democratic debate Thursday night with chants of “We are DACA recipients! Our lives are at risk!”

Wearing T-shirts that read, “Defend DACA,” “Abolish ICE,” and “Citizenship for All,” the protesters from the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, or NAKASEC, had been invited to the debate. They were hoping that the candidates would discuss solutions for DACA recipients, who may lose their legal status if the US Supreme Court decides the program is unlawful in a case before the justices this fall. The protesters jumped on stage and chanted for about a minute before ultimately being escorted away.

Under the Obama-era DACA program, almost 800,000 young immigrants who arrived without authorization as children have been allowed to live and work in the US since 2012.

But President Donald Trump tried to terminate the program in September 2017, arguing that former President Barack Obama lacked the authority to create it via executive action and that the program is therefore illegal. The Supreme Court will have the final say after it hears oral arguments in a case challenging Trump’s decision to roll back DACA on November 12, though a final decision is not expected until 2020.

In a video on Twitter, the protesters explained that they were disappointed by the lack of conversation about immigration during Thursday’s debates.

“Hearing that there wasn’t much spoken in the debate about immigration, we felt compelled to speak up and say something,” one of the protesters said. “I personally felt that I had been silenced for so long about my status that I couldn’t be silent anymore. It wasn’t planned. It was more emotional.”

Sam Yu, a spokesperson for NAKASEC, told Vox that the group wanted to bring attention to the fact that the DACA program is in jeopardy, as well as the plight of the estimated 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the US currently.

“We need to use this moment to defend DACA today and tomorrow we should be fighting for citizenship for all,” they said.

Trump recently claimed that if the Supreme Court decision backs his choice to end DACA, Congress will step in to save the program instead.

Although there is substantial bipartisan support for protecting DACA recipients, further debate in Congress is likely a dead end for now, and there’s no guarantee that Congress will take the issue up if the Court decides Trump’s decision to end the program was legal.

After substantial deliberation, Congress had tried and failed to pass compromise legislation last year. Democrats in the House passed a bill to protect DACA recipients in June, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not likely bring the bill to a vote on the floor.

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