DREAMers Take Family-First Immigration Message to Washington

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Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Hundreds of young immigrants and their families will flock to Washington this week to push for an immigration bill that values immigrant families over drones and fences on the border.

Those young people, who call themselves DREAMers, plan to hold a mock citizenship ceremony on Wednesday, where they expect nearly 500 people from around the country to gather outside the Capitol. In the days before and after the ceremony, they'll be visiting key congressional offices and making their case for an immigration overhaul that keeps families together.

The effort is being organized by United We Dream, the country's largest network of immigrant youth.

When you think of immigration activism in recent years, DREAMers have been at the front of that pack. Young immigrants have used everything from sit-ins to hunger strikes to call attention to the people struggling within the immigration system, some going as far as to infiltrate federal immigration detention centers. Alongside United We Dream are groups like the National Immigrant Youth Alliance and DreamActivist, pushing political boundaries to keep immigration on the agenda.

Now, however, immigration reform is at a crossroads in Congress. That's because an immigration bill passed the Senate in late June, but leadership in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have said they wouldn't take up the legislation.

The question now is how the House will proceed if they don't plan to vote on the Senate bill directly. We could learn more about that on Wednesday: While DREAMers are rallying on the Capitol lawn, Republicans will be meeting to discuss how to move forward on immigration.

The Senate bill has the political benefit of bipartisan support, with provisions aimed to please politicians on both sides of the aisle. The legislation would create a pathway to citizenship for some of the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants (a must for Dems), but it would also earmark $46.3 billion for border security (a concession to Republicans).

Republicans in the House, however, have been antagonistic about offering citizenship to immigrants here without authorization, even if the road to citizenship would be more than a decade long, as outlined in the Senate bill.

DREAMers coming to town this week will likely be visiting the offices of some of those GOP legislators, telling personal stories of how their families have been affected by the immigration system.

That focus on family is a recurring theme among youth immigration activists this year. Whereas "DREAMer" has meant immigrant youth in the past, this time around, activists are including their parents ("the original DREAMers") and kids ("little DREAMers) in an attempt to expand the branding -- which has played well in the press -- to immigrant families as a whole.

That's partly a result of the strides that DREAMers have made in recent years. A little over a year ago, the Obama administration announced a program that would allow qualifying undocumented youth to live and work in the U.S. legally.

The program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), came amid pressure from DREAM groups, but that victory didn't mark the end of the road.

"DACA is not enough," Lucas Codognolla, a 22-year-old DREAMer from Connecticut told ABC/Univision last month. "Although it sort of legitimizes me more as an American, I won't stop fighting until my family and I are looked at as valuable contributing members of society."

Updated, 7/17/13, 9:25 a.m.: I updated the piece to include mention of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance and DreamActivist, two groups involved in organizing DREAMers.

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Immigration Reform is a heated political issue that we view from all angles in the hope of getting politicians to address those impacted by the decisions they make.

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