Valley student finishes march to DC to lobby for Dream Act

  • Hampshire College student Eduardo Samaniego addresses a vigil in Northampton, Sept. 5, held in the wake of the termination of the DACA program announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier in the day. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Thursday, March 08, 2018

On March 1, Eduardo Samaniego and 10 other “Dreamers” arrived in Washington to lobby Congress to pass a “clean” Dream Act.

These young activists marched to the Capitol building, but they weren’t coming from cars or the airport. Instead, they were concluding a journey of more than two weeks by foot that began in New York City and took them through five states and the District of Columbia.

Samaniego, a 25-year-old Hampshire College student and organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, said he and his fellow Dreamers walked in rain, snow and sun.

“We definitely got our tan in there,” he said.

Marchers also faced exhaustion, blisters and sickness, with Samaniego getting a bad cold that left him unable to speak for three days.

“I’ve never been so sick in my life,” he said.

Some marchers took to using canes but none of the young people threw in the towel and they kept walking all the way to D.C., completing a journey that began on Feb. 15.

“None of us were giving up,” Samaniego said.

Samaniego said hundreds of people showed up to support them at each of their stops, with the marchers sleeping in private homes, churches and synagogues.

“It was truly amazing to see that,” he said, also noting that some folks also marched with them for different legs of the march.

Supporters provided shelter, food, water, socks and hats to the marchers, and Samaniego singled out a large number of families who provided assistance to them in Maryland.

“So empowering and inspiring,” he said.

Samaniego said these supporters greatly outnumbered the few people every day who would negatively interact with the marchers — some telling the marchers to go back to their own countries.

“We just would ignore (them),” said Samaniego, noting that he and his fellow marchers were part of a peaceful movement.

Once the marchers were in D.C., five Dreamers and an ally participated in an act of civil disobedience, where they sat down and blocked the intersection between the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court. These protesters were arrested, but Samaniego said their release was expected soon.

Dreamers are undocumented immigrants who came to this country when they were juveniles. A Dream Act would allow these immigrants to stay in the United States and provide a path to citizenship for them, and a “clean” Dream Act would not be passed with provisions that would restrict legal immigration or build a wall on the Mexican border.

Some Dreamers are eligible for the Deferred Action on Child Arrivals program, which provides protection from deportation and the ability to work legally in the United States for its participants. DACA is scheduled to expire on March 5, although federal court rulings are set to preserve DACA protections beyond this date for a time.

Samaniego, who does not qualify for DACA because he came to the United States when he was 16 years old, said that the issue of protections for Dreamers continues to be urgent. He plans on staying in D.C. and lobbying representatives from Georgia, where he settled after coming to the United States from Mexico, before returning to the Pioneer Valley to continue his studies and organizing.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.