A protest erupted on Monday at a press conference held by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in San Francisco, according to local reports.
Pelosi was holding the conference with fellow California Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee and Jared Huffman to call for the passage of the DREAM Act, which would allow recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and other immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as minors to remain in the country.
The protesters who interrupted the conference were calling for a “clean” DREAM Act — one that didn’t make concessions to Republicans on border security — and protections for a larger group of immigrants in the U.S. illegally than that bill would confer.
At one point, some of the protesters called Pelosi a “liar,” NBC News reported.
Some of the protesters held signs reading “Democrats are Deporters,” according to CBS’s San Francisco affiliate.
Pelosi tried to take back control of the event, telling protesters, “You’ve had your say, and it’s beautiful music to our ears,” CBS reported.
But the interruptions continued, and Pelosi was forced to leave.
The press conference was hosted by College Track, a program that helps youths from underserved communities get through high school and college.
College Track CEO Elissa Salas pledged to continue to help DACA recipients earlier this month after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the program.
“As the fate of DACA shifts, I am cautiously hopeful. There is a possibility that enough Senators have shown their support for DREAMers to sway the vote. This might be the best chance that the DREAM Act has had since it was first introduced,” Salas wrote in a statement
Under DACA, nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” — people brought to the country illegally as children — received work permits and deferral from deportation; about 690,000 Dreamers still hold DACA status.
According to the Migration Policy Institute
, about 1.8 million people would be immediately eligible for benefits under the current version of the DREAM Act.
In an impromptu conference after the incident, Huffman said, “I understand why nothing we’re doing is good enough for them.”
“Where we disagree is that we have an opportunity to protect hundreds of thousands of Dreamers while we work on the big picture,” he added.
While immigrant rights groups side with Democrats on a national level, many are still critical of an increase in interior removals — deportations of people living in the U.S. — during the Obama administration.
“When we had the majority and President Obama was President we passed the Dream Act, it was a departure from what we always said, that it has to be comprehensive immigration reform, but we thought this was one bridge we could build to that comprehensive immigration reform,” Pelosi said in response to Monday’s protest.
Some activists are also incensed that Pelosi, along with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had dinner with President Trump at the White House last week to put together the baseline of a deal that aims to couple the DREAM Act protections with some of the border security enhancements Trump has promised his supporters.
Pelosi added that she understood the group’s frustration, but said negotiations with the president are necessary because “Trump has the signature.”
“We have to pass the bill first and I wish [protesters] would channel some of that energy into the Republican districts so we can pass the DREAM act. But they don’t want the DREAM Act,” Pelosi said.
“And that’s an area of disagreement that we have in terms of tactic,” she said. “But certainly we all agree that we should have comprehensive immigration reform.”
The episode is an embarrassing one for Pelosi and Democratic leaders, who had claimed a big victory last week in securing the contours of the deal with Trump.
The agreement, hashed out between Pelosi, Trump and Schumer, was widely panned by Hispanic leaders on and off Capitol Hill. The critics were outraged that Pelosi hadn’t fought harder earlier in the month to attach the Dreamer protections to a short-term budget package that funded the government and raised the debt limit. And those same voices, hoping the Democrats would use their leverage to move a clean DACA fix later in the year, are now speaking out in the wake of the Pelosi-Schumer agreement to accept enhanced security measures as part of the deal.
“When did the border security stuff get slipped into this conversation, and where is it going to lead once the alt-right begins raising their voices?” said a frustrated Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), Congress’s most fervent immigration reform advocate.
“Democrats are in a very good position to make sure that there is justice for Dreamers,” Gutiérrez added, advocating to make the issue a part of must-pass budget legislation in December.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus huddled for emergency meetings twice last week to discuss the agreement and their strategy moving forward.
Underlying those talks, the Hispanic Democrats have been up in arms over Trump’s frequent attacks on immigrants, and many say they simply don’t trust the president to honor his vow to protect Dreamers.
“There’s an historical context to Trump and immigration and immigrants that I think always has to be in the front of your mind,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “I wouldn’t [trust him].”
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