Greater Pittsburgh demonstrators to lawmakers: save DACA
Demonstrators rallied in more than a dozen protests Wednesday and pleaded for Pennsylvania's Republican lawmakers to support young immigrants following the Trump administration's call to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA.
In Western Pennsylvania, DACA supporters targeted the district offices in Pittsburgh's suburbs of U.S. Reps. Keith Rothfus and Tim Murphy, while others protested outside U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's office in Harrisburg.
Between chants of "Do your job" and "Say it loud, say it clear, yinz are welcome here," Erin Kramer, director of the advocacy group One Pennsylvania, spoke on behalf of dozens of demonstrators gathered outside of Murphy's office in Mt. Lebanon. She urged lawmakers to act quickly in passing the Dream Act and to reject the Trump administration's action to "wind down" DACA.
Outside the Ross office for Rothfus, R-Sewickley, a few dozen protesters organized by One Pennsylvania, Planned Parenthood, union officials and the Education Rights Network chanted, "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here."
"My primary concern is these are kids. And they're kids who are trying to do things the right way," said demonstrator Valerie Allman, 33, a mother of 4- and 11-year-olds in Troy Hill and a parent organizer with the Education Rights Network. "We don't have a clear pathway to citizenship, especially for these children who were brought here; they didn't choose, they weren't in on the vote to come here. They don't have many options."
Just a few feet away, about six people gathered quietly at the street corner in support of President Trump. Their signs — "Drain the swamp," "Build the wall" and "Yes to jobs, no to hate" — generated their own car honks along Babcock Boulevard and a fist pump from a woman in a hatchback car calling out, "Go America! Go Trump" as she drove by.
Geraldine Donahue, 84, a Trump supporter from Sewickley, said she doesn't want to see mass deportations and hopes that lawmakers can agree on comprehensive reform rather than a temporary program that keeps undocumented people in limbo.
When James Plante, a field representative for Rothfus, came outside and said staff were too busy to meet but would be happy to schedule an appointment, protesters demanded that he clarify Rothfus' position on DACA. The aide referred to a statement Rothfus posted on Facebook and Twitter, in which Rothfus said he supported the Trump administration's "action to end this unconstitutional program" and to allow "Congress to reclaim its constitutional authority to set immigration policy."
"Immigration reform begins with securing our borders and establishing a functioning entry and exit system," Rothfus continued. "We can then begin solving the challenges of our broken immigration system, including addressing the status of children who were brought here through no fault of their own by their parents."
"Is (Rothfus) against deporting children, families and veterans?" shouted one protester, to whom Plante replied, "Of course we are."
The DACA program, which grants protection to individuals who arrived in the country as children and do not have legal status, will be phased out over the next six months unless Congress takes action to do otherwise. The government will stop accepting new applications for DACA status and will renew the status of eligible applicants on a case-by-case basis.
In order to qualify, an individual must have arrived in the United States before age 16 and have lived in the country since 2007. The program has benefited about 800,000 people nationwide. Pennsylvania is home to 5,889 DACA recipients, according to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services. The program started in 2012 under the Obama administration.
"I think there is a moral obligation for us — us meaning everyone in this country — to be fighting for the rights of immigrants, undocumented or otherwise," said Ren Finkle, of Brookline, who attended the rally at the Mt. Lebanon office of Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.
Other attendees expressed similar sentiments.
"It's so clear to us what's the right thing to do, and they let politics get in the way," said Mt. Lebanon resident Claudia Broman, who also attended the rally at Murphy's Mt. Lebanon office.
Maria Montano, a member of One PA who spoke at the rally at Murphy's office, said that she has noticed anti-immigrant sentiments swell following the 2016 presidential election. Her family members, including a grandfather and a sister-in-law, came to the U.S. from Mexico, and Montano said she feels compelled to stand up for other immigrants.
Their efforts to persuade lawmakers won't stop with DACA, Montano said, adding that she is already looking ahead to the 2018 elections.
Murphy spokesperson Carly Atchison declined to comment on Wednesday's rally and deferred to the statement released on Tuesday.
"I do not believe, nor do I support, deporting children who have no home but the United States and are here through no fault of their own as the solution," the statement said. "To that end, the President has made it clear that DACA permits would not be immediately revoked nor will ending the temporary program result in immediate deportation of individuals currently enrolled in the DACA deferral program. Instead, this announcement is proactive in nature and dictates how we will move forward in reforming immigration policy."
Murphy voted to stop the DACA program in 2014.
He pointed to the Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training Act (Enlist Act) as an alternative to programs like DACA, calling it an "example of a bipartisan legislative solution regarding immigration policy."
The ENLIST Act was reintroduced this January and would allow undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children to earn legal status through military service.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines. Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at email@example.com, 412-380-8514 or on Twitter @NewsNatasha.