Rogue Activist Network of ‘Dreamers’ Rattle Members Over Immigration
This article appeared in print as Rogue ‘Dream’ Immigration Activists Rattle Members
By Fawn Johnson
Updated: December 6, 2012 | 10:50 a.m.
December 5, 2012 | 9:30 p.m.
Dream Activist demonstrator Ernesto Zumaya, 24, of Los Angeles, leads protestors in a march outside the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala., Tuesday Nov. 15, 2011.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is the latest member of Congress to be targeted by a rogue activist network of “dreamers,” undocumented young-adult immigrants who are angling for legalization and want to stop the Obama administration’s deportations.
Aides on Capitol Hill are worried that the group, Dream Activist, will be confused with United We Dream, the national network of teens that has worked intensively and productively with members of Congress on the Dream Act, which would legalize undocumented youths. By contrast, the group Dream Activist is a loose collaboration of students and recent graduates who stage sit-ins and street protests. Dream Activist has a significant social-media presence (17,000 Twitter followers and almost 10,000 “likes” on Facebook) and an attitude.
“We take no prisoners,” said Juan Escalante, who runs communications for Dream Activist when he is not at his regular job at an ice-cream shop.
Nelson’s office has been flooded in the past year with calls about a variety of immigration cases, and at least one protester has been arrested in Nelson’s Miami office. Last week, the group accused Nelson of “attacking” a 13-year-old girl calling the office on behalf of her father, who is slated to be deported. Staffers told the girl that they preferred to talk to an adult about his case.
Dream Activist is well-known in immigration circles for its unflinching protest tactics on behalf of those in detention facilities and seeking passage of the Dream Act. In 2010, activists staged a sit-in in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office as he was angling to bring the Dream Act to the Senate floor for a vote. (It did not get the requisite 60 votes to pass.) Other targets include die-hard immigration-reform advocates such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Democrats worry the protests will stir up trouble on an already-controversial issue just as President Obama is about to launch a major push for a path to citizenship for all qualified undocumented immigrants. Dreamers have become the “face” of the immigration-reform movement, and any indication of splintering within their numbers could make it easier for opponents to kill the effort for sweeping overhaul. Democratic aides say Dream Activist has burned bridges in many congressional offices for their unwillingness to bend on their requests and harassing tactics.
Nelson’s situation mirrors that of many elected officials. His constituent-services staff deals with some 17,000 requests per year, many of them related to immigration. His staff has worked on all the cases brought to them by Dream Activist and resolved several of them. Some cases that aren’t resolved are referred to other offices, while others are beyond the senator’s reach because, for example, the detainees have criminal records. The trouble stirred up by Dream Activist can hurt Nelson’s advocacy work for other cases, aides say.
“We have a very good working relationship with both state and national immigration groups,” Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said. “We can’t say that about this particular group.”
This article appeared in the Thursday, December 6, 2012 edition of National Journal Daily.