RACINE — For about 15 minutes Monday afternoon, traffic on Main Street came to a halt as about 30 protesters locked arms, sat in the intersection of Sixth and Main streets and were eventually arrested for obstruction.
The group was protesting in favor of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was supposed to expire Monday. But federal courts have put its future into question.
Among those arrested were congressional candidates Randy Bryce and Cathy Myers. Both are running for the Democratic Party nomination to face off against House Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin’s 1st District. Like the others rounded up by police, they were handcuffed and put into police vans, taken away and cited for obstruction, a misdemeanor.
Afterward, Bryce said getting arrested was the right thing to do.
“Paul Ryan has done nothing, as far as leadership for the 1st District. He’s the speaker of the White House — not speaker for our house,” Bryce said. “These are kids that are being held hostage through no fault of their own … this is the only home they know.”
Myers said she was asked by a “Dreamer” — as DACA beneficiaries are commonly known — to be part of the event and said it was the first time she has been arrested.
“The politics that have been played with their lives is just profoundly wrong to me,” Myers said. “Paul Ryan has been promising to do something for a very long time and has done nothing. So when I spoke about people playing politics … that’s what I’m talking about.”
In 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order providing protection from deportation to minors who were illegally brought to the United States by their parents.
In September the Trump Administration rescinded DACA and set Monday, March 5, as the expiration date. However, a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear the administration’s case has bought Congress some time to try to come up with a solution.
Fernanda Jimenez, a DACA recipient and Horlick High School student, said her immigrant status won’t expire for another year, but some in her family are in jeopardy of deportation.
“I have siblings where their (DACA) has expired already and they’re trying to reapply,” Jimenez said. “They’re basically undocumented and they don’t have that protection that DACA (provides). And if my siblings and my parents were to be separated from me, I would be alone, and I don’t know what I would do without my family.”
Acts of civil disobedience
About 150 students — some with excuses from their parents, most without — walked out of Horlick in protest for DACA. They were joined by roughly 200 other students from Milwaukee who also walked out of their classrooms.
Racine Unified School Board member Michael Frontier said he does not condone students missing class, but he understood why many did.
“Issues of justice are an important part of learning,” Frontier said. “Some of the best experiences I had in college were outside of the classroom … I support kids using their constitutional freedoms and learning about democracy and advocating for a better America.”
Racine City Alderman John Tate II, who was present but not arrested, said those who got arrested were “in a position to make change doing a thing the kids can’t do themselves.”
“These are children that the law was built for; these are children that are standing up for their own futures,” Tate said. “And it’s our responsibility as adults, as elected officials and other members of the community … to stand with these children as they try to get their own rights instilled into law instead of executive action.”
Valeria Ruiz, a Racine native, DACA recipient and activist, said it was encouraging to see people get arrested for this cause.
Ruiz called the actions of adults who allowed themselves to be arrested “heartwarming.”
“As allies, they can do more than what we can,” she said.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant activist group based in Milwaukee, was one of the people arrested. She said the younger generation is leading the fight on this issue.
“So many youths are coming together from diverse backgrounds to really lead the fight around restoring protections for Dreamers and just to push back at all the hate that’s being directed at different communities,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “To me it really shows there’s a change in the time we’re living in.”
She said people are recognizing that there’s tremendous injustice, and Congress is not doing enough.
“Paul Ryan knows what it’s like to not have his father in his life, and he has the power right now to keep fathers with their children,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “The people are calling on him to use his power to stand up for the people in his district and around the country.”
At age 16, Ryan lost his father to a heart attack.
Jordan Dunn, spokesman for Ryan said in a statement: “The speaker appreciates those making their voices heard today. While court decisions have pushed the deadline on this issue until much later in the year, the speaker remains committed to finding a permanent solution for the DACA population. He continues to work with his colleagues to reach consensus on a plan that protects these young people while also strengthening border security and better enforcing our immigration laws.”
While Congress debates the future of DACA, the results have been felt by some of those directly impacted by decisions at the federal level.
Horlick student Yessica Ramirez came to the United States with her mother when she was 4, and has applied for DACA status.
Ramirez said she was denied DACA status last summer because she had not provided enough proof that she was in the country for those many years.
“Even though I was a minor, I had to get a criminal background check, I had to show proof that I was living in this country for the many years that I was, so I had to provide them with school records, medical records … and I guess what I sent was not enough” Ramirez said.
She described herself as “undocumented and unafraid,” and said now with the program rescinded she cannot reapply.
“It pretty much ruined my whole summer,” Ramirez said. “I already made plans that once I started school I would get a job, get my driver’s license just like all of my other friends, but I wasn’t able to because (DACA was rescinded) it before I had a chance to reapply.”