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Undocumented immigrants press case on Capitol Hill as DACA deadline looms

Immigrant rights supporters gather at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. The groups and allies are demanding that Congress pass a 'Clean Dream Act' that will prevent the deportation of Dreamers working and studying in the U.S., and reform legalization of those with Temporary Protection Status who came to the U.S. fleeing natural disasters or civil wars.
Immigrant rights supporters gather at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. The groups and allies are demanding that Congress pass a 'Clean Dream Act' that will prevent the deportation of Dreamers working and studying in the U.S., and reform legalization of those with Temporary Protection Status who came to the U.S. fleeing natural disasters or civil wars. AP

On the last day for submitting renewal applications under DACA, more than 100 young, undocumented immigrants from 25 states traveled to Capitol Hill to plead with lawmakers to protect them from deportation.

They came with stories to share, hopeful their emotional experiences would put a human face on a deeply divisive political issue.

“We’re here to share our story and message and to let Congress know that 800,000 lives are at risk of being deported,” said Jaime Rangel, an undocumented immigrant from Georgia.

It remains unclear, however, whether their visit this time will be any different from previous trips to Washington.

Activists and allies in Congress have been trying for years to pass legislation that would codify the Barack Obama-era program that allowed people brought into the country illegally as young children by their parents to stay here — a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Congress now has five months to pass a bill that would do just that, or President Donald Trump could rescind DACA entirely, as he has threatened.

The deadline could spur lawmakers to take action, but challenges remain. The undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, in Washington on Wednesday acknowledged the realities, and the stress it causes.

“It’s like a ticking time-bomb. Every day I’m waking up and checking all the media sites I know to see if there’s any updates on bills being passed,” said Adrian Escarate Espinoza, an undocumented immigrant who lives in Florida. “It’s unfortunate because I have been in this country for so long and don’t think me or any other dreamers should be living with that uncertainty.”

Lawmakers who are championing legislation known as the “Dream Act,” which would allow these young people to remain in the only country many of them have ever known, were cautious not to overpromise even as they saw some potential for a legislative deal.

“We’re moving the right direction and support is building. We’re in a better position than we’ve been in a long time,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois who has been working on this issue for years. “I’d never dream with President Trump that we’d being saying that.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and long-time immigration reform advocate, talked up the GOP’s SUCCEED Act, a bill that provides 15-year path to citizenship but doesn’t sponsor family members to America.

“You wind up with a pathway to citizenship, but you will have to earn it,” said Graham. “The bottom line is we need a border security solution. The Republican president, who has credibility on this issue on border security unlike anyone in my party, has the right attitude about solving this problem.”

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