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Defending the ‘Dreamers’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — About 60 people gathered in front of Sens. Tom Udall’s and Martin Heinrich’s offices Downtown on Thursday to continue pressuring them to vote against the upcoming federal spending bill if it doesn’t include protections for immigrant youth.

Similar rallies took place this week. Congress has until Jan. 19 to pass a spending bill to keep the federal government running. It can be a quick fix bill or a longer-term measure.

“Our senators have to stop playing with our lives. You need to stop playing with my life,” said Gabriela Hernandez, the executive director for the NM Dream Team immigrant rights activist group. “You (Udall and Heinrich) need to stop playing with my life.”

She and members of her group said Thursday that a recent trip with 200 activists to visit Udall and Heinrich in Washington, D.C., was disappointing as both politicians, who have each expressed unwavering support for immigrant youth, seemed to not be willing to block a spending bill over protections.

“Your words mean nothing if your actions don’t match,” Hernandez said at the rally.

Hernandez is a recipient of the federal temporary immigration status program for youth called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an executive order signed in 2012 by President Barack Obama. It applies to about 800,000 people.

President Donald Trump announced in September 2017 his plans to end DACA. A federal judge in California this week blocked that effort pending further court hearings.

More permanent protections, such as the DREAM Act, have for years been sought by legislators, including most of New Mexico’s delegation.

“This week’s court ruling temporarily blocking the president’s DACA decision does not lessen the urgency of Congress’ duty to act. We owe Dreamers real certainty: we must pass permanent protections for Dreamers into law, and we cannot delay any longer,” Udall said in a written statement Thursday.

But the likelihood of building the DREAM Act into the upcoming spending bill – as Hernandez and the NM Dream Team rally-goers hope for – is unclear.

“As Congress works toward a solution for Dreamers, we also must act quickly to avert a government shutdown that would be devastating for New Mexico, which already has a struggling economy,” Udall said in a written statement.

Udall staff member Jen Talhelm said both senators “and their colleagues are working very hard to build the DREAM Act into an agreement.”

A representative from Heinrich’s office said the senator is “passionate” about supporting Dreamers but would not say if he would vote against a spending bill if it doesn’t include youth immigrant protections.

“No member of Congress should be able to rest until Dreamers are able to rest easy knowing they will be able to stay and contribute to the only nation they call home,” Heinrich said in an emailed statement.