Four hundred young immigrants [including Make the Road New York] gathered near the Capitol on Wednesday to hold their own version of a citizenship ceremony, kicking off a nationwide campaign to push legislation through the House of Representatives that would offer eventual citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants.
With House Republicans planning to meet later Wednesday to plot their immigration strategy, the only certainty was that they would not take up a sweeping bill like the one the Senate passed last month, which included a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. But while House Republican leaders were trying to lower expectations and weighing whether to tackle smaller pieces of an immigration overhaul, the young people, who call themselves Dreamers, were increasing their demands.
Leaders of United We Dream, the largest national network of young immigrants, said they would not accept any plan that offered citizenship to them but not to other immigrants who are in the country illegally.
“We have come today to claim our citizenship,” Lorella Praeli, a leader of the organization, told the crowd. “2013 is not the time for separate but equal. It is not the time for legalization for some and citizenship for others.”
Some supporters and opponents of an immigration overhaul were starting their ground games in Washington this week for a House debate that has no clear direction and could be influenced by populist pressure from both sides.
The young immigrants wield wide influence among Latinos, Asians and immigrants. An Obama administration program giving them reprieves from deportation has an 86 percent approval rating among Latinos, a Pew Hispanic Center poll found, and it drove Latino voters to help re-elect President Obama.
The youths’ message of growing up in this country without legal papers while striving for education and betterment is an appealing American narrative, which they use to maximum political effect. Some Republican leaders have suggested there might be a compromise in offering them a separate, fast track to legal status and perhaps citizenship, without the same deal for other undocumented immigrants.
But as the legislation moved to the House, the young people have encountered strong resistance. House Republicans made their position clear last month when they took a largely symbolic vote to defund the deportation reprieve program.
In response, the youths’ strategy is to stress their patriotism and family values. In a carefully choreographed move on Wednesday, they created a tableau with the Capitol in the background and American flags on all sides. Arriving on buses from around the country, they wore suits and party dresses for the big day of their ceremonial swearing-in.
They stood up, raised their right hands and swore an oath they had written for the occasion. “I hereby pledge to live out the highest values of this land,” they said, and ended, none too modestly, with: “I am the future of this nation. I am the American dream.”
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