Paragons of Virtue or Criminals — Hearing Shows ‘Dreamers’ Are Both
Senate Judiciary Committee gives voice to people on polar opposite ends of the DACA debate
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday heard about both extremes of the so-called “dreamer” debate — a vicious criminal and a future doctor.
The panel conducted the hearing to consider the impact of President Donald Trump’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Supporters of DACA hope to pass legislation along the lines of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, from which the “dreamers” get their name.
About 690,000 DACA recipients eventually will lose the protections they enjoy from the quasi-amnesty program created by Barack Obama's administration if Congress does not act. One concern critics have expressed is that DACA is riddled with fraud and includes some criminals. According to testimony Tuesday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials have canceled DACA status of some 2,000 people who have committed crimes.
Iowa resident Bill Hartzell offered emotion testimony about the brutal rape and murder of his wife's 93-year-old grandmother, Louise Sollowin. He said Sollowin and her husband were the "real dreamers," legal immigrants from Italy who worked hard and respected America's laws.
"These same laws, if had they had been enforced, might have saved Louise — or, as we call her, 'Gram' – and she might still be here with us today," he said.
Hartzell described the events of July 21, 2013 — one year after the Obama administration created DACA. Sollowin was sleeping in her Nebraska home when Sergio Martinez-Perez — an 18-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico — raped and murdered her.
Hartzell said Sollowin suffered a broken nose, two shattered orbital sockets and several broken ribs. Cuts to Sollowin's tongue and lip from her own teeth caused blood to fill her lungs. Martinez-Perez raped and sodomized her. By the time the perpetrator was finished, explained Hartzell, there was not one square foot of wall or ceiling that was not covered with blood.
"With the entire weight of his body straddling her and pinning her down, Perez brutally beat Gram," he said. "In actuality, 'brutally' or 'brutal,' is not adequate to describe what he did to Gram."
Martinez-Perez was not a DACA enrollee, but a spokesman for Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said the panel invited Hartzell to testify to spotlight the need for interior immigration security as part of any amnesty deal in Congress.
Hartzell described how the family's grief turned to anger once the prosecutor informed them that Martinez-Perez twice previously had been deported — and yet was living in Omaha, Nebraska, employed as a contract worker for a roofing company.
"Caught and deported twice, this monster was still given special privileges to live and work where our most vulnerable citizens live."
"Caught and deported twice, this monster was still given special privileges to live and work where our most vulnerable citizens live," he said. "We also learned that he was a member of the Los Sureños gang. He was here, illegally, poised to murder. He killed Gram, and our dreams became a nightmare."
But the Judiciary Committee heard from the other end of the spectrum as well. Denisse Rojas Marquez, a 28-year-old medical student who founded an organization called Pre-Health Dreamers, testified that DACA allowed her to pursue her dreams.
"The United States has been my home for 27 years," she said. "I consider myself a hard-working American, a proud Californian, and most recently a New Yorker."
Marquez said she was not yet one year old when her family moved illegally from Mexico to the United States, settling in Fremont, California.
"I have loved this country for as long as I can remember. For me and for so many others, this is the only country we know and the only place we belong," she said. "My mother tells me that before I started school, I was so eager to speak in English that I would call my relatives over the phone, declare I knew English, and proceed to speak in gibberish."
Marquez said she grew up fearing deportation. She told senators that the family lived in a nondescript apartment complex out of view from the main street. She said she looked over her shoulder to see who was following her.
"It felt surreal when my DACA approval came in the mail; my sister and I held each other in tears … It lifted me out of the shadows, and I no longer live in fear," she said.
That all changed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced earlier this year that he had concluded the Obama administration exceeded its constitutional authority in creating the program, Marquez said.
"To me, this means that I will not be able to practice as a doctor," she said. "I don't know how I'll survive after graduation. How will I pay my rent? How will I pay off my loans? How will I have income for food and other basic necessities?"
The government has not released detailed information about DACA enrollees or conducted a rigorous study examining their educational attainment, earnings or other information.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, testified that surveys conducted by private researchers suggests that most DACA beneficiaries are neither high achievers nor criminals. A Harvard University study found that 73 percent of DACA enrollees lived in low-income households, 22 percent have earned college degrees. Another 21 percent dropped out of high school, and 20 percent have no plans to attend college.
"I think what we've found is the DACA population really spans the whole spectrum of educational attainment and socioeconomic status and so on," she said. "There are many people who have done very well. There are some who are struggling."
(photo credit, homepage and article images: Molly Adams, Flickr)