Two days after shutting down House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s news conference in San Francisco, pro-immigrant activists gathered at a Santa Rosa town hall meeting Wednesday to press Democratic congressmen to support a clean immigration bill, one without concessions to the GOP on border security.
Reps. Mike Thompson of St. Helena and Jared Huffman of San Rafael hosted the meeting at Santa Rosa Junior College to answer questions and discuss efforts underway to protect Sonoma County’s undocumented population.
It was called in response to President Donald Trump’s decision this month to end a program that allowed young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to temporarily live and work in the country without threat of deportation.
“This is an understandably personal issue. I get that. I know there are many folks in this room who have been affected by the immigration issue,” Huffman said at the beginning of the meeting, which drew a crowd of 250 to 300.
Young activists questioned Huffman and Thompson on how they planned to protect the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, not just those brought into the country illegally as children by their parents. Some held a banner that read “We are undocumented” and “Democrats deport.”
The group came short of disrupting the event as they did Monday, when they shouted down Pelosi in anger over her negotiations with Trump to create a pathway for undocumented students to become legal U.S. residents and eventually citizens.
Huffman was at the Monday event, standing behind Pelosi when protesters burst into chants like “All of us or none of us” and “we are not a bargaining chip.” On Wednesday, he told the crowd he was sympathetic to the protesters’ concerns but stressed the need for both sides to listen.
“Today was much more constructive,” he said after the town hall at the junior college, where officials estimate 1,500 students are undocumented.
Laith Ocean, an SRJC student and member of the North Bay Immigrant Youth Union who protested the Pelosi event, agreed to sit on Wednesday’s panel, saying undocumented immigrants needed to be part of the conversation.
“Because we don’t have any voting power, this is the only way we can get involved,” said Ocean, a 20-year-old who received temporary protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
Ocean called for an immigration bill that would protect all undocumented immigrants, not just students currently covered under the Obama-era policy.
“We’ll fight for all 11 million, no more no less,” Ocean reiterated.
Thompson called Trump’s decision to phase out DACA over the next six months “mean-spirited” and “insensitive.” While the program is not perfect, he said it’s important to protect it for the country’s roughly 800,000 DACA recipients, one-quarter of them living in California.
If the program ends, Thompson said it would cost the American economy an estimated $460 billion over the first decade. However, he and Huffman vowed to push for a more comprehensive reform that would protect all the undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
“I’d like to see a different fix than just DACA. In the interim, DACA is extremely important,” Thompson said. “This program allows (recipients) to stay here, to bring them out of their shadows and continue to contribute to their community.”