Chants of “we are the dreamers, mighty mighty dreamers,” reverberated around the state Capitol on Aug.16 as a small group of protestors attempted to march into Gov. Jan Brewer’s office to directly ask her to support them.
Members of Latino activist groups, including the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, gathered at the Capitol to protest Brewer’s Aug. 15 executive order barring public benefits, Arizona driver’s licenses and state identification to individuals granted “deferred action” by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Deferred action status means undocumented immigrants that meet certain requirements can avoid deportation and get work permits.
The protestors contend that because the deferred action program grants them “lawful presence” in the United States, they should also be allowed to obtain driver’s licenses and receive other benefits from the state.
The group crowded into the reception room for the Governor’s Office on the eighth floor of the Executive Tower and asked to speak to Brewer, but eventually received Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson instead. Benson told the group that he appreciated them stopping by, but Brewer was not available to meet with them.
After listening to a few members of the group tell him their stories, Benson explained Brewer’s executive order by saying the governor is merely upholding existing law. “Brewer has taken an oath to uphold the law and that’s what she did to clarify the law that non-citizens cannot access public benefits or driver’s licenses,” Benson said.
Benson added that if the group wants to change the law, it should craft a bill and put it through the legislative process.
Deborah Robles, 20, president of the Students United For Fair Rights And Greater Equality chapter of the Dream Act Coalition, presented Benson with a copy of a Merrill/Morrison Institute poll, which indicates that 73 percent of registered voters in Arizona support the Dream Act. Robles said the April 26 poll is proof that Arizona supports undocumented youth and that Brewer needs to change her position to support them as well.
Robles came to speak as a documented voter and said that undocumented residents are just as important as voters.
“We want to get across that Brewer’s opinion that Arizona doesn’t support us is false. They (Arizonans) want to fix this issue,” Robles said.
Viva Samuel Ramirez, 39, a representative from Voto Latino, an organization that encourages civic engagement in the Latino community, said the deferred action policy represents a way for undocumented people to live without fear.
“Deferred action is a way for them to work and contribute to their society without fear or live in the shadows like criminals,” Ramirez said. “In this context here, this represents we’re continuing the fight and we’ll continue to stand…The dreamers cannot back down.”
Despite the Merrill/Morrison Institute poll being conducted before the deferred action policy was announced, Ramirez said it is still relevant.
“It’s not that it’s old, it’s just that this attitude is already established and for Brewer to come out and say that Arizona doesn’t support us is ridiculous,” Ramirez said.
Yadira Garcia, 23, a member of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, said the coalition is working on a civic engagement campaign to encourage registered voters to support the Dream Act.
“This mandate is just another obstacle, but we’ll remember this next election year,” Garcia said.
After meeting with Benson, the protestors peacefully made their way back down the elevators and eventually gathered on the Senate lawn. As protestors held brightly colored signs, people took turns speaking in English and Spanish to the surrounding crowd.
Dulce Matuz, 27, another member of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, gripped a megaphone and chanted to the crowd, “What happens in Arizona stops in Arizona.”