Dreamers grapple with immigration risks in joining Floyd protests

Undocumented activists are struggling over whether to participate in protests against police brutality, fearful that an arrest could lead to deportation. 

For beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, commonly known as “Dreamers,” an arrest might mean losing their work permit and deferral from deportation.

Members of mixed-status families, meanwhile, could put at risk undocumented relatives and others in their social circles if they’re taken into police custody during demonstrations against the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man. 

“They have to look out for the entire household. They don’t want to bring trouble home,” said Rep. Jesús García (D-Ill.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Those fears were heightened Sunday when acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan said the CBP was supporting federal, state and local law enforcement agencies “confronting the lawless actions of rioters.”

CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials insist the move is not meant to enforce immigration violations.

“This deployment is about supporting the efforts of our federal, state and local partners, not about carrying out CBP’s immigration enforcement mission. This is about the preservation of life and safety,” CBP spokeswoman Stephanie Malin wrote in an email to The Hill.

ICE’s deployment is similarly targeted as a law enforcement assistance mission. The agency’s policies designate public protests as sensitive locations where immigration enforcement is carried out only in cases of imminent danger to public safety or national security.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement fully respects the rights of all people to peacefully express their opinions. In light of civil unrest taking place across the country, ICE personnel and Special Response Teams have been deployed to protect agency facilities and assets in support of the Federal Protective Service and assist local, state and federal law enforcement partners, as needed,” said ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett.

But trust between immigration enforcement agencies and immigrants has devolved to the point where many Dreamers have to think twice before participating in peaceful demonstrations.

Greisa Martínez Rosas, a DACA recipient and deputy executive director of United We Dream, an immigrant-led undocumented advocacy organization, was once picked up by CBP agents at El Paso International Airport after protesting the Trump administration’s border policies.

“There is no trust that this administration is not going to use every and any opportunity to detain and deport you,” said Martínez Rosas. “We’ve seen cases of DACA recipients that it really doesn’t matter what’s in your history. Once you come into contact with ICE and CBP, they’re moving forward with your deportation.”

Depending on the state and locality, some law enforcement agencies cooperate with ICE and CBP, meaning encounters with local police can threaten DACA benefits.

Arizona activist Máxima Guerrero, a DACA recipient who attended Sunday’s protests in Phoenix, was arrested in her car while leaving the demonstration to go home.

Guerrero was transferred to ICE custody by local authorities and could face deportation, according to a report by AZCentral.

“I have heard of Dreamers in my area who feel very constrained about not being able to participate,” said García, whose district covers parts of Chicago.

“This is when their reality strikes home — that they don’t enjoy the rights of other people who are really no different from them in terms of being an American,” he added.

Activists note that Dreamers and the Black Lives Matter movement have shared experiences that make them political allies.

“While Black men are often the face of violent police crime, Black women, American Indian/Alaska native men and women, and members of the Latinx community also face higher odds of dying at police hands,” said Tiffany Cross, a commentator and political analyst who wrote a book about the role of African Americans in American democracy titled “Say It Louder!” 

“But because of the unique and violent history Black people have in this country that we built for free under violent white rule, the pain of our brethren may unintentionally get overlooked,” Cross wrote in an email to The Hill.

For Martínez, there are parallels between the growth of immigrant detention and black mass incarceration.

“We’ve known these issues are so connected, and the reason why there is increased detention of Latinos in the United States is also grown and linked to black people being detained,” said Martínez.

“There’s this understanding that these things are connected,” she added.

García, who as a 12-year-old recent arrival from Mexico witnessed the 1968 riots in Chicago, said he is optimistic that the interaction between both groups will help produce future leaders.

“In ’68, I remember it vividly. It’s affected my entire life,” he said. “It’s helped me understand this country’s history. It helped me understand slavery. It helped me understand Jim Crow. It helped me understand civil rights. It helped me understand the 1965 Voting Rights Act — I might not be in Congress right now but for the Voting Rights Act.”

“I do feel this crisis will produce a new generation of leadership, and I feel optimistic about it because I think that young people who are experiencing this will help our nation overcome its tainted history of racial and ethnic prejudice,” he added.