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Demonstrators filled the lobby of the Hart Senate building on Thursday to urge Congress to pass legislation protecting immigrant youth from deportation.

Jackson Fox-Bland

DC students join demonstration in support of immigrant youth

Two months after President Trump ordered an end to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Wilson students walked out of school to urge Congress to pass legislation protecting immigrant youth from deportation. Many forewent classes for the morning on Thursday, opting instead to join a massive demonstration downtown in which hundreds flooded the Hart Senate Office Building and twenty activists were arrested for their deliberate acts of civil disobedience.

The demonstration was organized by United We Dream, a nationwide organization fighting for immigrant rights. Wilson’s role was coordinated by Common Ground, along with several individual students who were communicating with organizers from United We Dream.

Students left school shortly after arriving and rode the Metro to Union Station, where they were greeted by students from high schools and colleges in the area, along with United We Dream organizers. After being filled in on the protocol for the demonstration, they entered the Hart Senate building.

There, at 11:30, “DREAM Act Now” chants echoed from the sea of demonstrators that filled the lobby, and banners demanding action from GOP leaders were dropped from the surrounding balconies.

Roughly five minutes of this uproar ensued before organizers began waving red flags, the predetermined signal to stop chanting and transition to a silent protest. Police threatened arrest for anyone who did not cease chanting.

Most students lowered their voices from shouts to murmurs, as they had been instructed to do prior to the demonstration. Twenty United We Dream organizers continued to shout and were arrested. They were all released by 3:30 that afternoon.

After leaving the Hart building, the growing crowd made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the front of the Capitol building, where the demonstrators gathered in a circle, ran to the front of the lawn, heard speakers, and continued to chant. At 1:45, the group began to disperse.

Students who participated in the demonstration received unexcused absences for the classes they missed. Principal Martin did not formally condone the walkout, and she wrote in an email to parents that students were encouraged to remain in school, citing safety concerns. However, she also stressed the value she places on student expression. “It is important that our youth know that school is a safe place to feel whatever they need to feel. Education isn’t just about academics – it’s about helping our students develop as civically-engaged citizens,” she wrote.

The walkout occurred almost exactly a year after last year’s walkout following the Trump election, and two months after a smaller walkout protesting Trump’s decision to end DACA. However, this was the first walkout in which students partnered with an outside organization.

“This walkout was unlike the others. It was the most organized and thought-out walkout and protest that DC has seen in a while,” said Addie Alexander, one of the leaders of Common Ground. The group decided to help publicize the walkout because it spoke to their mission of “raising awareness about social justice issues that affect the Wilson community by giving students a platform to use their voice,” said Alexander.

The demonstration itself aimed to give a voice to a population whose fragile immigration status often leaves them voiceless. “Protesting is a privilege that not many people have. There are people who feel safer to be quiet than to protest,” noted Michael Gil-Ramos, a Wilson senior who served as a protest marshall, giving instructions to students and guiding them to the next destination.

Michael, like many Wilson students, knows people whose lives will be dramatically altered if a DACA replacement is not enacted soon. He stressed the importance of action in a time like this.

“I’m just scared. I have family who is directly affected by this. I know children who are affected by this. It’s a really scary thought, to know that they won’t get what I have. I think there’s hope that [the demonstration] could change something,” he said. •

For photos of the demonstration, click here. 

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