Daniela Velez came to New Jersey with her parents from Venezuela at age nine. She told Sen. Cory Booker she attended an all-white school.
“So, I automatically knew I was illegal,” said Velez. “There were not a lot of Latinos, so I automatically knew I don’t belong here and I don’t fit in.”
But, like many of New Jersey’s 22,000 so-called “Dreamers,” Velez learned the language and excelled at school. And she fit in, until Donald Trump rescinded DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Now “Dreamers” fear deportation to countries many can’t even remember. Andrea Navarez was only 18 months old when she arrived in New Jersey from Ecuador.
“Now that DACA’s being rescinded, I feel like everything that I worked so hard for until now is going to be gone,” she said.
“It’s almost an outrageous insult that some people, who are as American as I am, are facing such an incredible threat — to be sent back to countries that you don’t know, that you haven’t lived in,” said Booker.
The president gave Congress until next March, or six months, to fix DACA. Meanwhile, no new permits will be issued, and “Dreamers” whose permits expire in that time frame have until Oct. 5 to file for renewals. That’s going to cause a logjam because out of almost 800,000 “Dreamers” nationwide, almost 25 percent, or 200,000, will reapply in the next couple of weeks, according to the Cato institute. Many can’t work without those DACA permits.
“People are going to lose jobs. An average of 1,400 people a day will start losing their jobs because of this,” said FWD.us Northeast Coalitions Director Pamela Chomba
If DACA permits get caught in a backlog, it could also cause trouble for “Dreamers’” driver’s licenses.
“How are people going to renew their driver license? Right? Because people need that in New Jersey to go around, and the young people of course, they do, as well. So that we don’t know, yet,” said Chia Chia Wang, organizing and advocacy director for American Friends Service Committee.
For Booker, the biggest obstacle is Congress itself. Despite polls showing a majority of Americans don’t want “Dreamers” deported, some conservatives call immigration reform “amnesty” and oppose it.
“I want to also thank you, but also know that there’s a lot of “Dreamers” in New Jersey who are counting on your support and who are counting on this administration in the state of New Jersey to come out and say, ‘We’re going to fight for this. We’re going to work with everyone to get this passed,'” said Velez.
We sat down one-on-one with Booker and asked how tough that’s going to be in the next six months?
Booker: Well, first of all, you heard the stories. I think that they brought many tears to many peoples eyes. When you hear somebody who’s been here, who came here when they were just a year and a half and now they are 20 or so, and they have no memory even of their home country. They’re contributing to our nation. We heard from entrepreneurs, workers and students who are making a tremendous economic contribution, even thousands of jobs that are created as a result of their economic activity. So, this is from a moral standpoint, from an economic standpoint, from a job standpoint, this is something that’s urgent and that’s how we’re appealing to Republicans on the other side of the aisle. And, we’re seeing many of them come over from some Republican Congresspeople in this state, to Republican senators, like the other Cory in the Senate, Cory Gardner from Colorado. So, this is not going to be easy, but I’m confident that we’re going to get some more momentum because of the urgency that was created by what I think was an awful decision by Donald Trump.
Flanagan: If they ask you to put up some money to build his wall as part of the agreement, or if they ask you to possibly put limits on immigration, could that be part of the package?
Booker: Well, I think the wall is a dead end. I think that as people in New Jersey know why would we spend billions of dollars to build a wall, that even southern state Congresspeople and senators know wouldn’t do anything to really add to our security in this country at a time where we should be building bridges not walls, building tunnels in this region not walls. So, that’s a nonstarter, which has been said by many in leadership. But look, we want to get a bill done, and if this other compromise is that we have to make along the path. Remember, Bob Menendez, our senior senator, was part of an incredible gang of eight — four Republicans, four Democrats — that put together comprehensive immigration reform. And, he said there are things I don’t like about it, but they are part of a comprehensive bill. If we had gotten that to become a law that actually passed through the House, we would see billions of dollars of economic growth added. Because remember, you pull people out of the shadows, like DACA folks, they pay taxes, they create jobs, they help to build our communities and make us stronger.
Flanagan: Sen. Menendez’ vote was absolutely crucial in pushing back the effort to repeal Obamacare. There’s another move afoot before the end of reconciliation on Sept. 30 to try that one more time. Where do you think that’s going to go and Sen. Menendez because of his trial, how crucial is it going to be to get him back down to D.C.?
Booker: Well, Sen. Menendez has not only been a champion in pushing back, I wasn’t the Senate then, but he was a champion in getting the Affordable Care Act passed and people don’t give him the credit he deserves, or the advances we made as a nation towards having everyone insured and everyone having the security of what I think should be a right of having health insurance. But, look, they are going to continue to try. This is something that we know is not over. And even worse than that, Donald Trump right now using his executive authority, he’s trying to kill Obamacare by not advertising to get healthy people into the system by threatening the kind of payments to make sure that it’s secure. So, we have work to do. This is something we can’t stop battling, stop fighting, stop defending the attacks and then, what I’m really involved in, is looking at ways to advance our nation towards where we should be, which is to have everybody access to health insurance and everybody have access to affordable health care. Which is everything from lowering prescription drug costs, which are outrageously high — the same drug in other countries compared to here is much cheaper — as well as finding ways for more affordable health care for all.
Flanagan: So, you are considering possibly signing on to universal health care?
Booker: Well, I’m signing on to “Medicare for All,” which I’m excited to do this week. Sen. Sanders and myself and others are going to be announcing some legislation. I’m signing on to some of my colleagues — all of us working toward this understanding that if you look at American history, there’s always been advancements towards greater equality, greater access, greater opportunity. What we have right now as a country, where just because of your wealth, will depend upon whether you have health care or not. You should not be punished because you’re a working-class or poor and be denied health care. I think health care should be a right to all. And I’m working on multiple pieces of legislation, for Bernie Sanders “Medicare for All” working with him on that, to even some of my other senators who are just trying to give people opportunity to buy into Medicare. This is something that has got to happen. Obamacare was the first step in advancing this country, but I won’t rest until every American has a basic security that comes with having access to affordable health care.
Flanagan: We’ll be looking forward to that at a news conference later on this week. Sen. Cory Booker, thank you for joining us.