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OC Register: DACA recipients turn up the pressure on Mimi Walters, local Congress members

By MARTIN WISCKOL | mwisckol [at] scng.com | Orange County Register
PUBLISHED: November 10, 2017 at 6:00 am | UPDATED: November 10, 2017 at 8:55 am
Irvine Valley College student Rosa Rodriguez, like many among the nearly 800,000 other immigrants brought to U.S. as children, is increasingly nervous that she’ll lose her legal residency status and face deportation.

That motivated her to meet with congressional staffers last week and plead for their boss, Rep. Mimi Walters, to take a leadership role in preserving protections made available to her and other so-called Dreamers by the Obama Administration. 

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Demonstrators who want to extend DACA provisions chant inside of Rep. Mimi Walters’ office building in Irvine on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)
One of the pro-Dream Act demonstrators, Christopher Sanchez of Fullerton, chants inside of Rep. Mimi Walters’ office building in Irvine on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)
A man who refused to leave Rep. Mimi Walters’ office in Irvine gets arrested Thursday, November, 9, 2017 after he and three others went into the office to call on her to support the Dream Act and temporary protective status for immigrants. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)
CHIRLA Political Director Polo Morales speaks to demonstrators who called on Rep. Mimi Walters to support the Dream Act and temporary protective status for immigrants inside of Rep. Mimi Walters’ office building in Irvine on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)
Demonstrators chant inside of Rep. Mimi Walters’ office building in Irvine on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)
Demonstrators try to get inside the building the houses Rep. Mimi Walters’ office in Irvine on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)

One of the Dream Act demonstrators, Graciela Vargas, stands in front of Rep. Mimi Walters’ office in Irvine as security guards watch on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)
A man who refused to leave Rep. Mimi Walters’ office in Irvine gets arrested Thursday, November, 9, 2017 as he and three others went into the office to call on her to support the Dream Act and temporary protective status for immigrants. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)
Korean Resource Center leader Timothy Phan leads a pro-Dream Act rally in front of Mimi Walters’ office in Irvine on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)
Demonstrators who want to extend DACA provisions chant inside of Rep. Mimi Walters’ office building in Irvine on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)
One of the pro-Dream Act demonstrators, Christopher Sanchez of Fullerton, chants inside of Rep. Mimi Walters’ office building in Irvine on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)
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Korean Resource Center leader Timothy Phan leads a pro-Dream Act rally in front of Mimi Walters’ office in Irvine on Thursday, November 9, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)
President Donald Trump announced in September that no more temporary extensions would be granted after March under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program, and handed the Republican-controlled Congress the task of coming up with a replacement. But that process has largely stalled.

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Walters, who could prove a key Republican swing vote on the issue, is attracting particular attention from Dreamers and their advocates. Efforts have included staff visits like Rodriguez’s, three demonstrations outside the congresswoman’s Irvine office this month alone and a UC Irvine rally last month featuring Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.
“I’m really disappointed in the lack of initiative by all the representatives in Congress,” said Rodriguez, who was three when her mother brought her across the Mexican border. She says the United States is the only country she’s ever really known. And while she’s applied to transfer to UC Irvine and study public-health policy next year, losing her legal status could change everything.

Rosa Rodriguez mug
DACA recipient Rosa Rodriguez
“I’m in limbo,” said the 20-year-old, who helps pay her bills with a part-time job at her school’s tutorial writing center. “I’m not waiting anxiously for my acceptance letter as much as I’m waiting anxiously to find out about my status. If I lose that, I probably wouldn’t go to school. I couldn’t work (legally) any more and even if I get my degree, I couldn’t work in my field.”

Nearly 80,000 of California’s 223,000 DACA recipients are college students. More than 60,000 of those, like Rodriguez, attend community college. Rodriguez’s meeting with two Walters’ aides Nov. 7 was arranged by the South Orange County Community College District’s Public Affairs Office, as part of the school’s outreach on behalf of the more than 700 DACA recipients in the two-college district.

Other schools are similarly engaged.

After Trump’s announcement, California State University Chancellor Timothy White said he was “troubled and dismayed” and called on Congress to take steps to extend the protections. And within days, the University of California filed a lawsuit seeking to continue DACA.

“(DACA recipients) represent the best of who we are — hard working, resilient and motivated high achievers,” said UC President Janet Napolitano at the time. “To arbitrarily and capriciously end the DACA program, which benefits our country as a whole, is not only unlawful, it is contrary to our national values and bad policy.”

In October, the American Council on Education called on Congress to act and soon afterward, Rodriguez’s college district board passed a similar resolution.

Anti-illegal immigration stalwarts oppose giving legal status to anyone in the country illegally. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, is among those who have expressed reservations about extending special protections to DACA recipients.

“Legalizing their status sent a message throughout the world that our doors were open to share all the benefits accorded American citizens,” he said after Trump announced that DACA would be terminated.

But some Republicans — including Reps. Walters, Ed Royce, R-Fullerton and Darrell Issa, R-Vista — have expressed support for continuing legal status for DACA recipients. Most congressional Democrats support giving DACA recipients permanent residency as well as a path to citizenship.

To qualify for temporary legal status under DACA, applicants had to have been brought into the country as children, must be working or attending school, and need to have a clean criminal record. In return, they receive a renewable two-year permit to live, work and study in the U.S.

“Although we weren’t born in this country, we carry our love for it in our blood,” Rodriguez said in a statement read to Walters’ staff Tuesday. “When we were given DACA, we were grateful because the country we called home was finally accepting us and had given us an opportunity to give back to a country that has given us a home.”

Those whose current DACA permits expire before March 5 are eligible for another two-year renewal, but none are authorized after that.

Targeting Walters

Rodriguez, who’s permit expires in January 2019, was born in the small town of San Andres Ixtlan in Jalisco, Mexico. Shortly after she was born, her father headed to Napa Valley to better provide for his family. He’s worked at the same vineyard for 20 years and is helping her pay college bills, said Rodriguez, whose three siblings are U.S. citizens.

During her meeting with Walters’ staff, Rodriguez described her harrowing efforts to cross the border with her mother. While completing high school in Napa Valley and researching colleges, she settled on UC Irvine because of the curriculum and because of the reputation of its immigrant help center.

“It was just the energy — the vibe — UCI gave off,” she said. She selected Irvine Valley College as part of her path to UCI.

Walters has issued sympathetic statements about DACA recipients, but Rodriguez told the congresswoman’s staff that wasn’t enough.

“I am asking Mimi Walters to take more leadership and work with her colleagues in Congress to come up with a solution,” she told them.

Walters and Royce, whose districts both have public universities and and community colleges, have been particularly targeted by activists. Their districts have considerable Latino and Asian populations, which are among the most fervent supporters of DACA. Royce’s district is 34 percent Latino and 32 percent Asian. Walters’ district is 18 percent Latino and 44 percent Asian.

Reflecting those demographics, Asians — and particularly Koreans — have been prominent in the pro-DACA activism in the two districts. The largest portion of Asian DACA recipients are Korean, with 7,700 nationwide and about two-thirds of those in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, according to Yongho Kim of the Korean Resource Center.

The Korean Resource Center has co-sponsored the three DACA demonstrations at Walters’ office this month, as well as last month’s rally at UC Irvine.

“KRC has focused more on Walters because she hasn’t taken a stance (yet) on citizenship and she represents a district with a large number of DACA eligible young people,” said Kim, who is hoping Walters can be persuaded to support a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. Royce has said he favors allowing those currently protected by the program to remain legally in the country, but opposes a path to citizenship.

Asked about the Rodriguez meeting and the demonstrations, Walters responded by email.

“Young people who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own and without proper documentation are an important part of our communities, particularly in Orange County,” she said. “It’s now Congress’ responsibility to find a permanent solution that will allow these young people to remain here so they can continue to enrich our society and build their American dream. … I will continue to work with my colleagues and the House Republican DACA working group to find a solution to allow these young people to remain in this country.”

D.C. proposals

The two best-known congressional bills to address DACA recipients — the Dream Act introduced in July and the Succeed Act introduced in September — have yet to be considered by a single committee and are expected to undergo significant changes before votes are taken. Key issues of dispute include whether there should be a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and whether the bills should contain provisions for additional border security.

Trump has said the bill should include funding for a border wall and 10,000 new immigration agents. Rodriquez, Kim and other DACA activists want a “clean” bill with a path to citizenship and no provisions for additional enforcement. But that approach may have difficulty gaining sufficient Republican support.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D- Ill., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are co-authors of the Dream Act, the most prominent current effort to address the issue. Durbin told CNN late last month that Democrats and Republican were negotiating over what border security measure could be acceptable to both sides.

The early draft of the bill has bi-partisan support, but much more backing from Democrats. The 200 co-sponsors of the House version, for example, includes all but one of California’s Democrats — Lucille Roybal, D-Los Angeles — but only two of the state’s 14 Republican House members — Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, and David Valadao, R-Hanford.

On Thursday, a group of 17 GOP Congress members held a press conference announcing their desire to broker a permanent solution. The two Californians among them were Issa and Denham. Issa called for compromise by both opponents to legal status and by those who insist on a clean bill.

“Are you willing to get off of the ‘enforcement first’ or the ‘all or nothing at all?'” he asked his congressional colleagues.

Trump has said he may revisit the DACA rules if Congress doesn’t arrive at a solution by March. But the lack of progress and the rapidly shrinking window of time has DACA recipients on edge.

The uncertainty motivated Rodriguez, who said she hadn’t previously joined a demonstration, to reach out to a Congress member and, for the first time, share publicly the whole story of her border crossing.

“My parents never hid the fact from me that I was undocumented — they wanted me to know so I would make sure to stay out of trouble,” she said. “I was never allowed to take the initiative to do something like” participate in a protest.

But three days after speaking with Walters’ staff, she joined demonstrators outside the congresswoman’s office. She said she was inspired by the “emotion and passion” of others like her, and plans to be more active in public protests.

And her parents’ warning her to stay out of trouble?

“I’m an adult now,” she said. “I make my own decisions.”