Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin on Thursday faced the fury of 100 Harvard University students who were angry that Democrats caved in to Republicans’ demands to reopen the government last month without a deal on DACA.
The Illinois Democrat was set to speak on immigration to multiple Harvard affiliates at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. But the evening was disrupted as hundreds of students protested despite his previous support for giving amnesty to so-called “Dreamers.”
Demonstrators bearing signs “We Are Not Your Bargaining Chip” were shouting “Say it loud, say it clear — immigrants are welcome here!” and “If we don’t get it? Shut it down!” outside the venue while accompanied by a live band, the Harvard Crimson reported.
The chanting started shortly before Durbin’s speech and continued until the end. Several people sneaked into the building where the event was held and raised signs during the speech.
Durbin was among nearly three dozen Democrats who voted to reopen the federal government following a three-day shutdown over immigration. Republicans needed some Democrats’ votes to pass a bill continuing the funding of the government.
Durbin also co-sponsored a bill called the Dream Act that would have made the Obama-era DACA program permanent, though it would have included certain Republican demands such as ending the visa lottery and chain migration.
But the protesters on Thursday told the Crimson that the eliminations were unacceptable and Democrats should focus on guaranteeing rights to DACA recipients without any changes to the immigration policies.
“When we needed them to hold the line down for us, they weren’t doing that,” Hyo-won “Esther” Jeon – a DACA recipient – told the paper, noting that Democrats must use government shutdowns as leverage to pass progressive legislation. “Every time they kick the can down the road, all they’re doing is making people more vulnerable to deportation.”
“I know that if the Dream Act passes and it’s not a clean Dream Act, I would feel nothing but guilt that this is what it took for me to become a U.S. citizen,” student Laura S. Veira said at the event.
Durbin rejected the proposal, saying a clean Dream Act is not viable because it would never pass the GOP-controlled Senate.
The top Democrat also said at the event that immigration is “the civil rights issue of our time” and addressed the concerns of the protesters that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will not work on a bipartisan immigration bill.
“I’m going to hold [McConnell] to that promise and I believe he’ll keep that promise,” Durbin said. “I hope he doesn’t break my heart.”