On Tuesday, October 24, 2017 the Trinity community gathered for an extraordinary symposium devote to teaching, learning and advocacy for DREAMers and passage of the DREAM Act in Congress. Throughout the day, several hundred students, faculty, staff and friends packed Social Hall and O’Connor Auditorium to listen to a remarkable range of speakers, hear the stories of our DREAMers, and take immediate action through organizing petitions and letters to Congress.I am so grateful to the principal organizers of the symposium: Trinity Dreamer Alliance Leaders Sadhana Singh and Yarely Rodriguez (photo above) and all of the Dreamers who worked with them on the day’s program; Professor Matt Bates and Dean Sita Ramamurti, Dr. Konia Kollehlon and Sr. Mary Johnson, Distinguished Professor and former Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly ’58, Dr. Allen Pietrobon and all CAS faculty and staff who participated. Thanks to student photographer Summer Faulk ’18 whose photos appear throughout this blog. Many thanks as well to Vice President Ann Pauley and her team, including alumna Elizabeth Palmer ’92, who coordinated so many details with the office of Leader Pelosi.
We were so deeply honored that our alumna and friend House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi ’62 was able to find time in her schedule to come to the symposium and offer insights on the current legislative proposals, words of encouragement and a call to action, along with some warm and funny memories of her Trinity days. Thank you, Leader Pelosi! (Click on this link to see photo and mention of Trinity in Washington Post story about Leader Pelosi.) (And Click Here to see a beautiful photo of Leader Pelosi and Sadhana Singh on the Leader’s weekly roundup.)
We were also gratified that Donald Graham (above), co-founder of TheDream.US and benefactor for so many Trinity students via DC TAG and DC CAP, could spend a large portion of the day with us and share his thoughts on the path forward.
We also were delighted that Washington Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville-Rodriguez (speaking, above) could participate in the closing panel on the work and witness of the faith community, and he shared insights into the strong stance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on DACA and Dreamers and immigration policy for justice.
We also are so grateful that representatives of the major advocacy and support groups participated, including:
Christian Penichet-Paul from the National Immigration Forum
Greisa Martinez Rosas of United We Dream
Paromita Shah of the National Immigration Project
Sandra Alcala of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
Claudia Quinonez of United We Dream
Javier Bustamonte of the Ministerio Hispano of the Archdiocese of Washignton
Celia Rivas with Immigration Services of Catholic Charities
Jeff Chenowish of CLINIC (Catholic Legal Immigration Network)
Our campus community was also so moved to listen to the stories of our DREAMers including these young women whose panel was a highlight of the day.
During the Symposium History Professor Dr. Allen Pietrobon ran a bank of computers for participants to write letters to Congress; by the end of the day he had more than 70 letters and more than 200 signatures on a petition that he delivered the next day to Congress.
My Remarks at the Opening of the Symposium:
We gather today in a moment of crisis, concern, and collective commitment to using our best advocacy to reverse the dreadful action of the Trump Administration in rescinding DACA protections and pursuing an ongoing course of government action that is actively hostile to immigrants. Today we will hear from, and share ideas with, a number of policy advocates, immigration lawyers, a leading member of Congress, a bishop who will speak about the efforts of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to persuade the Administration to step back from these unjust and inhumane policies. We will also hear from Don Graham, the former owner and publisher of the Washington Post who is the founder of the Dream.US, the organization that supports so many students. Most of all, we will hear from our Dreamers and their sister students, as well as faculty and staff, and together, we will plan the path forward to continue advocacy every single day until we achieve justice.
Some context for today’s sessions:
In 2012, after years of Congressional stalemate on immigration reform, President Obama took the humane step to create DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — to extend some minimal legal status to undocumented young people. Since then, more than 800,000 Dreamers have received DACA permits to work, get drivers’ licenses, come out of the shadows. Current data shows that 95% are in school or employed, often both at the same time. More than 20,000 are teachers, now at risk. Dreamers contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the national economy. These young people are often the sole support for their extended families. They pay taxes and contribute to the well-being of their communities. Polls show that the majority of Americans support restoration of DACA and even a pathway to citizenship.
I first became familiar with DACA when my good friend Donald Graham invited me to a meeting to discuss a new scholarship program he was creating for Dreamers. Mr. Graham is an amazing philanthropist and civic leader; he was the driving force behind the creation of the DC Tuition Assistance Grant program, known as DC-TAG, and the parallel DC-CAP program. Through his leadership thousands of Trinity students from DC received important grants to support their education here. So, when Mr. Graham asked me to come learn about a new scholarship program for Dreamers, I responded with enthusiasm. He and his partners raised tens of millions in scholarship support to offset the fact that Dreamers are not eligible for federal financial aid. With the scholarships from TheDream.US as well as some very generous private benefactors who have given additional gifts to support our students, Trinity now enrolls more than 100 Dreamers this year.
Trinity’s Dreamers are among our most accomplished students. They are active in student government and campus activities. They are leaders of service initiatives. They excel in many sports and have won academic honors and recognition. They exemplify Trinity’s 120 year-old mission commitments to women’s leadership, to social justice, to academic excellence, to honor and integrity, to service to others.
Beyond Dreamers, we are deeply concerned as well about the status of immigrants and threats to roll back the traditional American welcome and hospitality for people from around the world. Many outstanding Trinity students in all academic units are also immigrants or are the children of immigrants. All of us surely have an immigration story. My own grandparents, who I never knew, made perilous journeys from Ireland and Italy in the early 20th Century. They were fleeing poverty and oppression in their native lands. They arrived in this country virtually penniless, struggled and suffered great discrimination, and did not live long enough to see how well their struggles blossomed into success stories in the second generation.
Immigrants built America, and the United States became a great nation because of the contributions of generations of immigrants. It makes absolutely no sense economically, socially or morally to retreat from the posture of hospitality, welcome and support that once characterized this nation’s outreach to persons from other nations. But, sadly, in the current political climate, a virulent nativism has taken over too many politicians who are pandering for votes among a “base” that thrives on racial and ethnic hatred, ignorance and fear. The stoking of fear and hatred of “the other” quite obviously discriminates against people based on their looks, their language, their religion and culture. You might notice that nobody’s clamoring for a wall across the northern border. White supremacy and anti-immigrant movements are the evil twins of oppression against people who are different from the white majority — a group that will soon lose its majority as the force of sociology continues to drive change for the most pluralistic nation the world will ever know sometime very soon.
What can we do in the face of so much outrageous injustice? We must find ways to channel anger into action. We have to be bold and courageous in speaking out against the movements that brought us to this awful moment in American history. We have to use our intellectual power to study the options and advocate for the best solutions.
We need to confront and call out those who misuse principles of law to approve offenses against humanity. Just last week I was on a panel about DACA, and another panelist was a government official who kept saying that well, we hate what’s happening with these fine young people, but “the law is the law.” Seriously, I am a lawyer, too, and I know darn right well that there are many laws that are unjust and that beg for just solutions. DACA was a just solution to a chronically unjust situation that Congress failed to remediate for many years.
We need to change the law, yes, but in the absence of Congressional action DACA was a fair and just solution for undocumented youth who are in this country already. Our nation has a tragic history of human rights abominations embedded in law, from the 3/5 compromise in the original Constitution that was only abolished with the 14th Amendment after the Civil War; to the notorious case of Plessy v. Ferguson that upheld racial segregation in 1896 until overturned in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education; to laws that prohibited inter-racial marriage, or that discriminated against gay people, or that place undue burdens on exercising voting rights. We have both a right and an obligation to speak out against unjust laws, to demand fair and humane and equitable legal solutions, and to insist that political leaders have the moral integrity to make decisions in favor of protecting human rights.
We need to bring an unabashed moral sensibility to our advocacy. Many of the same politicians who have hailed the president’s decision to end DACA and who support building the wall also claim to be “pro-life.” That’s a travesty! The American bishops have been very clear that support for immigrants and refugees and Dreamers is very much part of being “pro-life” and living the ideals of social justice.
We must stand for justice and support the right to lives of dignity and purpose for Dreamers and all immigrants, a principle clearly stated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and many other faith leaders. The United States would not be the great nation it is today but for the many and still-awesome contributions of immigrants from all nations across many centuries. We insist that our government do the right thing by protecting Dreamers and their families, and at long last taking steps in the right direction to develop a sane, responsible approach to immigration policy. The moral imperative of real justice demands a restoration of at least minimal civil and human rights for Dreamers, and preferably, passage of The Dream Act as soon as possible.
We will keep the inspiration of this day alive — In the words of the late Senator Ted Kennedy about the need to remain relentless in the cause of justice: “…the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”