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DACA advocates push for action as clock ticks down on budget deal

As congressional lawmakers were wrangling over a deal Thursday to keep the government open past a Friday budget deadline, about 200 DACA advocates were urging Congress to include protection for “Dreamers” as part of any budget bill.

The advocates, including several from Arizona, fanned out across Capitol Hill and tried to take their cases directly to lawmakers during stops in House and Senate office buldings.

“It’s really moving, you feel like a part of something greater and really it’s really amazing to see all the support that the Dreamers have,” said Kendra Soto, a Phoenix resident who was part of a group protesting Thursday.

“We are all going to the senators’ offices and fighting for our futures really,” Soto said with a group outside the office of Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas.

After asking to see Cotton, the protesters were turned away by staff late Thursday morning. A handful of the 20 or so advocates then sat down in the hallway outside the office and began singing and chanting before U.S. Capitol Police warned them to stop and move, eventually arresting four protesters for civil disobedience when they did not move.

The scene outside Cotton’s office this morning was repeated all over Capitol Hill as DACA advocates tried to get their message to lawmakers. DACA recipients, sometimes called Dreamers, had come from across the country to share their stories raise their voices, and even shed a few tears in an effort to persuade the lawmakers who hold dreamers’ fates in their hands.

“I’m a Dreamer and I am here, you know, to advocate for the Dream Act and to urge Congress to vote for the Dream Act this coming Friday,” said Danny Caracheo, a protester from Michigan. “It’s been incredible seeing all these other dreamers especially the ones from Arizona.”

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a program put in place in 2012 by President Barack Obama. It allows undocumented immigrants who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children to pay a fee and apply for a renewable deferral from deportation as long as they met certain criteria, including having a clean record and either working or being in school.

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Besides protecting them from deportation, the program allows recipients to legally work, drive and go to school, among other benefits.

Critics immediately attacked the program as presidential overreach by Obama, and President Donald Trump announced on Sept. 5 that he was rescinding the program, effective March 5. Trump said the six-month “wind down” was meant, in part, to give Congress time to come up with a solution that would protect the estimated 800,000 DACA recipients who would be affected by the loss of the program.

But despite several proposals being put forward, Congress has not been able to reach a deal. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, was part of a bipartisan group of senators who proposed a plan last week at the White House, where it ran into stiff – and salty – opposition from Trump and Cotton, among others.

DACA supporters have said for months that they intended to use the federal budget as leverage to get a vote on a bill to protect Dreamers. If the budget is not passed, many federal agencies would be forced to close. But one budget deadline came and went in December, with Congress approving a short-term extension of the budget but no DACA vote.

That short-term extension is scheduled to expire at midnight Friday. The House passed another extension Thursday evening – without DACA language – and sent it to the Senate.

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Shelby Lindsay/Cronkite News

A DACA advocate is arrested after protesting Thursday outside the office of Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas. Advocates were trying to pressure Congress to include deferred deportation language in the budget bill that must be passed Friday.