Last week, two Dreamers from DACA United SC and SC Appleseed Organizer, Ana Garcia, joined with Dreamers and advocates from across the nation in Washington DC to attend the Leaders in Action Summit, hosted by UnidosUS a national group that advocates for Latinos. The summit included policy briefings, advocacy training, and legislative visits. The timing of the summit was especially relevant because the March 5th end date for the DACA program set by the Administration has come and gone with Congress passing no solution to the crisis this decision created. Additionally, the summit coincided with the floor debate of the omnibus spending bill, and there was hope that continued protections and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers would be included, although ultimately, that did not happen.
Despite this disappointment, the Leaders in Action Summit was an encouraging and powerful opportunity to connect with approximately 300 community leaders from all over the country to learn together, share ideas, and put that learning into action. The summit itself was broken into two sections with the first day dedicated to advocacy training and policy briefings, covering a wide range of topics such as youth organizing, immigration, housing, education policy, voter registration, and best practices for talking to legislators. The second day was focused on direct meetings with legislators and their staff. Our South Carolina delegation had the opportunity to meet with staff of six South Carolina legislators – Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, and Representatives James Clyburn, Mark Sanford, Trey Gowdy, and Ralph Norman – to talk about the urgent need for a pathway to citizenship for all Dreamers.
This experience highlights the importance and power of personal outreach to legislators and their staff, and shows how it is often an eye-opening experience. Speaking to them directly about what matters the most to you and learning firsthand where the legislator stands puts into perspective how the politics of our nation work. While this can sometimes be disappointing or frustrating, it can also lead to new insights and provide glimmers of hope for the future. In that vein, several legislative staffers indicated they have heard many different stories about Dreamers from people in their districts. This means there are people all over South Carolina who are contacting their legislators about supporting Dreamer legislation, which is powerful. We need to keep up the momentum in hopes that legislation will pass before the year is over.
In all, the Leaders in Action Summit was a powerful and amazing experience. Despite snow and cold temperatures—which were pretty shocking coming from 80-degree South Carolina weather—Dreamers and advocates alike were uplifted by the experiences of the trip and the opportunity to meet so many different activists from across the country. The successes diverse groups like El Pueblo from North Carolina and HOLA from Ohio have seen in their home states are an inspiration, and provide unending promise for what the future can hold for South Carolina, as well.