Walking for a DREAM

Doug Singsen reports on a cross-country march by a group of young immigrant rights activists who call themselves the "DREAM Walkers."

Dreamwalkers picket outside Obama campaign headquarters in Denver (Justin Valas)Dreamwalkers picket outside Obama campaign headquarters in Denver (Justin Valas)

FOR SIX days, ending on June 11, two young activists, Javier Hernandez and Veronica Gomez, occupied President Obama's campaign office in Denver and went on a hunger strike to demand that Obama issue an executive order ending the deportations of immigrant youth.

They are part of a group of activists calling themselves the DREAM Walkers, who are on an eight-month march across the U.S. to bring attention to this demand. Although they decided to end the occupation so they could continue the march, the two announced that they have been working with activists in other states who will be launching occupations of other Obama campaign offices in the next two weeks.

The name DREAM Walkers is a reference to support for the DREAM Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth who meet certain criteria, which vary between different versions of the legislation. Much of the focus has been on going to college as a way to qualify for the pathway, but more recent DREAM proposals have made military service a more and more prominent criteria.

The DREAM Walkers are themselves undocumented, and are thus putting themselves at considerable personal risk in order to bring attention to the impact that deportations have on the lives of immigrants.

Javier and Veronica entered the office on Tuesday, June 5, and initially refused to leave until their demand was met. The other three DREAM Walkers remained outside, sleeping there overnight and organizing an ongoing 24-hour support rally. After the protesters entered the office, the Obama campaign declined to have the police remove the protesters, electing instead to close the office and move their campaign operation elsewhere.

What you can do

The Dreamwalkers need help to buy food, shoes, gas (for their support vehicle) and other supplies. To make a donation, send a check made out to the Campaign for an American Dream to 5021 Bridle Way, Antioch, CA 94531.

You can follow the Dreamwalkers on their website and Facebook page.

The protesters believe that the campaign decided to do this in order to avoid the negative publicity of arresting activists attempting to resist deportations at a time when Obama is attempting to court Chicano voters for his re-election campaign.

Although Obama is on record as supporting the DREAM Act, when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress in 2009 and 2010, he failed to pass the legislation or even make a serious effort to do so. Judged by his actions rather than his rhetoric, Obama is hardly a supporter of immigrant rights: Under his administration, deportations increased to over 400,000 per year, more than double the rate under George W. Bush.

As DREAM Walker Nicolas Gonzalez said at a protest outside the campaign office on the night of June 5, "We know that they are targeting the Latino community, we know that they want our vote. But Obama has deported more people than any other president. What we have heard from Obama is broken promise after broken promise."

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THE ACTIVISTS decided to occupy the office while stopping in Denver on their way from San Francisco, where they began the march on March 10. They plan to arrive in Washington, D.C., on November 2, four days before the presidential election. Five of the DREAM Walkers are planning to walk the entire 2,400 miles, but they will be joined for shorter stretches by a rotating group of people.

Some of the DREAM Walkers have been active in immigrant rights organizing for some time, while for others, this is their first experience as activists. They created their own organization to plan the walk, the Campaign for an American Dream, and they are being assisted by various immigrant rights organizations, but their march is not being sponsored by any other group.

Because multiple versions of the DREAM Act have been proposed since it was first introduced in 2001, each contains different eligibility requirements--the DREAM Walkers therefore want Obama to stop all deportations of anyone who might be eligible for citizenship under the legislation.

Although the DREAM Walkers support the DREAM Act, they also feel that it doesn't go far enough, and various activists have different attitudes towards Obama. Some feel that they need to support the president and that he just needs a friendly nudge to do the right thing, while others are more critical.

However, they all agree that they are tired of waiting for Obama to act and that they need to take the fight for their rights into their own hands. The attitude of the DREAM Walkers was captured at a support rally on June 6 by a protester who shouted from the crowd, "We don't support Obama, we support us!"

The DREAM Walkers also have differing views of the specific requirements contained in the DREAM Act, with many offering criticisms of the versions introduced in recent years by both Democrats and Republicans. In the words of Jonatan Martinez:

They've been working on the DREAM Act for 11 years, and they've been watering it down the whole time. They took out the public service option and added the military option, and they've added more age limits. Currently, under the Stars Act introduced by the Republicans [a partial version of the DREAM Act], if you're under 18, you can get conditional residency for five years, but they can revoke it whenever they want. They also introduced the Arms Act, where you have to join the military to get citizenship.

The fact that the Stars Act and Arms Act were introduced separately means that it would be possible for the latter to be passed alone, making military service the only path to citizenship for undocumented youth. The DREAM Walkers feel that the age restrictions are unfair, that citizenship should not be limited to students and soldiers, and that the DREAM Act is only the start of their struggle. As DREAM Walker José Sandoval said:

My mom should get amnesty, too. She's the one who has a job and pays taxes. Not only have I been working hard, but she's been working hard, too. The way me and my family see it is that we know we're not all going to get amnesty right now because of all the political issues going on, and it makes my mom feel good that I have a chance at having hope for the future, even though they're not going to get documentation from the DREAM Act.

If the DREAM Act were passed, José says that "the next step would be our parents. They've been working hard, they've been supporting us and sending us to school. They didn't get the chance to go to school here, but they have been contributing to the economy by paying taxes."