Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer and Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Chevy Chase) were among about 200 protesters arrested Wednesday afternoon on the steps of the U.S. Capitol as they called for Congress to act on legislation to protect young undocumented immigrants.
The protest was organized by national immigrant rights group trying to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that enabled young immigrants to obtain work permits.
President Donald Trump rescinded DACA this year and the work permits granted under the program are scheduled to begin expiring in March. Young immigrants who participate in the program are often referred to as “Dreamers.”
Riemer, a Democrat from Takoma Park, said Thursday morning that about 600 students at Montgomery College participate in DACA. He said he joined the protest to stand up for them and others in Montgomery County who depend on the program.
— Hans Riemer (@hansriemer) December 6, 2017
“One of our strongest attributes is the people who come from all over the world to live in Montgomery County,” Riemer said. “That includes Ph.D. scientists and construction workers and every one of them contributes to making this community a better place. We need to stand up for them.”
He said Dreamers in the county need to feel comfortable that they have a secure future.
“We need to lift the threat of deportation from their future,” Riemer said. “They need to be able to look ahead and act without fear to create a better life for themselves and their families. I thought the strongest step I could take would be to participate in civil disobedience.”
Gutierrez, who is running for the Bethesda-based District 1 County Council seat in 2018, was also among those arrested. She said Thursday she has been arrested four or five times in recent months during immigration protests.
Proud to be arrested with Ana Sol Gutiérrez and Celina Benitez at today’s protest over the elimination of the DACA and TPS programs. We need to protect our neighbors who are facing deportation. pic.twitter.com/k7DMbrp7YD
— Jimmy Tarlau (@JimmyTarlau) December 7, 2017
She attended the protest Wednesday as a way to raise awareness about the Trump administration’s moves to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for certain groups of immigrants. The program protects immigrants from countries where it would be dangerous for them to return due to natural disasters or conflicts such as war. In November, the Trump administration rescinded TPS for Nicaraguans and Haitians in the U.S.
Gutierrez, who is Salvadoran, said she is concerned about the administration’s actions and worries about 260,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. as part of the program will have their protections rescinded in January, when the Department of Homeland Security is scheduled to review their permits.
Gutierrez said there are more TPS holders in Maryland than DACA students.
“It’s many people who have been here for a long time, who own houses, own cars, who have children born here,” Gutierrez said. “They are an integral part of our society, our economy and they’ve been here for a very long time.”
Riemer said the protest was carefully organized and those who were arrested were cordoned off in advance, processed by police and then released. He said he’ll have to return to Washington, D.C., Thursday to pay a $50 citation.
The Rev. Charles Booker, center, wearing collar, was among those arrested at the protest Wednesday. Photo provided by Booker.
The Rev. Charles Booker, of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, also was among those arrested Wednesday. He said Thursday he believes 181 people in total participated in the civil disobedience portion of the protest.
This year, the Bethesda church identified itself as a “sanctuary church” and committed to housing and welcoming undocumented immigrants and refugees seeking protection against federal immigration enforcement measures. Booker said the church is part of a group of 80 congregations across the D.C. region who also provide rapid response and accompaniment to people going to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) check-ins.
“I find it horrific how we are separating our country in so many ways,” Booker said. “It’s very important in a broad sense of public sanctuary to make our solidarity known and simply stand with those who are most imperiled of having their families separated and who are losing the simple ability to be part of our country.”
Booker, who has participated in civil disobedience actions in the past, described the arrest process as “the simplest I’ve been through.”
The protest was designed to pressure Congress to pass legislation that would protect the approximately 690,000 immigrants who came to the country as young children and who receive work permits that protect them from deportation.
On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council introduced a resolution calling on the federal government to work together to pass legislation to provide a pathway to permanent residency for immigrants who participate in the TPS and DACA programs. The council is scheduled to approve the resolution Tuesday.
President Barack Obama created the DACA program in 2012 through an executive order for immigration authorities to prioritize which immigrants living in the country illegally should be deported.
When Trump announced he would rescind the program in September, he said he advised the Department of Homeland Security to focus immigration enforcement actions on DACA recipients who are criminals, involved in criminal activity or members of a gang.