Adriana Gonzalez will have many reasons to give thanks on Thanksgiving.
For one thing, the holiday dinner will be her first meal all week. And she will enjoy it with her parents, who are undocumented and fear deportation to Mexico.
“I’m really thankful for the fact that I will be able to share Thanksgiving with my family. I can’t imagine being torn apart from them,” said Gonzalez, 24, one of a handful of hunger-striking “Dreamers” who demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Morristown office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.).
Gonzalez and her comrades, who were brought to the U.S. as children, are on a statewide mission to plead with legislators to enact a “clean” DREAM Act giving them a pathway to citizenship without expanding funding for immigration enforcement.
“If Congressman Frelinghuysen would sponsor it, that would catapult it to success,” said Karol Ruiz of the Morristown-based Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center, which organized Tuesday’s rally along with Action Together New Jersey.
In September, President Trump signed an order to end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, that President Obama had authorized in 2012 to temporarily shield children of undocumented parents from deportation.
Nationwide, DACA has protected some 800,000 youths. The number in New Jersey is about 22,000.
Frelinghuysen was not in his office on Tuesday. Demonstrators presented his staff with a pro -DREAM Act petition signed by 170 college faculty members from across the state.
Dreamers began their fast on Monday morning and plan to continue until Thanksgiving dinner.
They visited the office of Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.) on Monday, and Reps. Tom MacArthur (R-3rd Dist.), Leonard Lance (R-7th Dist.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd Dist.) are on their itinerary over the next two days.
The tone at Frelinghuysen’s office was cordial, yet demonstrators expressed exasperation. Ruiz said this was her sixth attempt this year to speak with the Congressman, who has not held a town hall meeting since 2013.
The Rev. Alison Miller of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship said the Morristown Area Clergy Council has been unable to get any face time, either, with Frelinghuysen, who once was very accessible.
The 12-term Congressman, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, “is no longer giving an audience to the clergy, to community leaders, to immigrants–people who really want to be in a dialogue with him. He’s never here. I’d like to hold Rodney Frelinghuysen to the standards he set” earlier in his political career, Miller said.
Accompanied at Tuesday’s rally by her 5-year-old son, Asher, the minister said Frelinghuysen is setting a bad example for kids.
“Our children are watching and paying attention to how our leaders and politicians in the community are caring for their classmates,” Miller said.
Gonzalez, who is pursuing a masters degree in special education at The College of New Jersey, was 2 years old when her family came to the U.S.
She said they overstayed their visas because life back home was grim, with few opportunities. Her father works in construction, her mother cleans houses. Tired of the waiting game, her older brother returned to Mexico–and was seriously injured in the Mexico City earthquake, Gonzalez said.
Carrying a sign proclaiming, “Here to Stay,” Gonzalez said she cannot return to Mexico.
“Our lives are at risk there,” she said. “There is not safety in the neighborhoods. You can’t come out on top as easily as you can here. There are so many more opportunities in the U.S., and so many barriers there.”