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Student Katherine Escalante advocates for DACA on Capitol Hill

Published on November 28, 2022

Student Katherine Escalante advocates for DACA on Capitol Hill

Katherine Escalante

Sophomore political science major Katherine Escalante received the chance of a lifetime this November when she was invited to Washington, D.C, to advocate for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. A DACA recipient from South Dakota, Escalante was recruited by to urge members of Congress to protect and advance the immigration policy that has afforded her so many opportunities. This is her journal of the trip.

Nov. 14

Just a week ago I was contacted by Gaby Pacheco, a prominent immigrant rights leader and administrator for TheDream.US, a leading college access program for undocumented students. She had been contacted by (Forward), a nonprofit organization that works on immigration and criminal justice reform. Forward was looking for a DACA recipient from South Dakota to vouch for the program, which grants certain protections to eligible immigrants who came to the United States as children. South Dakota happens to be my home state.

That’s when I was connected to the digital strategist and digital communications lead for Forward, Juan Escalante. A couple of hours later we were on the phone regarding participating in Forward’s DACA “fly-in.” This fly-in would have me sitting face-to-face with the government officials whose job is to vote on the future of my life. Now, just a couple of days later, I’m ready to depart Bradley International Airport for Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport.

As I started writing this at my gate about to leave from Connecticut to Washington, something interesting caught my eye. To be more specific, someone interesting caught my eye. Standing in a navy-blue suit was none other than Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal. 

Escalante's photo shoot

A screen shot from an advertisement with Escalante urging congress to pass DACA legislation

I knew I had to introduce myself, so after a couple of moments of mental infighting I strolled over. Extending my hand for a handshake and smiling from ear to ear, I congratulated him on yet another term in office. We briefly discussed his visit to Eastern the week before, his excitement to return to Washington, and my reason for jetting off just a couple of weeks before finals. Moments later the senator was pulled into another conversation.

I had not yet finished collecting my thoughts when another odds-defying interaction occurred. Sen. Blumenthal was greeting someone else who looked familiar. My eyebrows furrowed as I searched my brain for who this familiar person could be! As my attention fixed on their interaction, I heard Sen. Blumenthal give his congratulations. It clicked as I realized Rep. Jahana Hayes of the 5th Congressional District of Connecticut was standing just a couple of feet away from me at Gate 30. 

I could not believe the chances of any of this. I mean, just a couple of weeks ago I was googling Hayes for a project, and just a couple of days before today, I had been on the edge of my seat watching the election results for District 5 coming in. Of course, I had to introduce myself as well!

Nov. 15

Today was an early morning. I was up by 5:30 a.m. getting ready for the day's events. I was to meet the Forward media team at 101 Constitution, a tall residential building just across the way from the Capitol. Today I was to film an ad for Forward that would air in Washington and South Dakota.

By 7 a.m. I was sitting in a makeup chair getting styled in front of a 15-person production team, a teleprompter and a video call with the director of the production. As I stood on the rooftop of 101 Constitution with the U.S. Capitol as the backdrop, I thought to myself I had never been part of something that looked so professional and felt so important. By 9:30 a.m. the photo shoot was wrapped up, and for the rest of the day, I was free to explore the city.

At 7 p.m. on the dot, our first reception with all 100 DACA recipients participating in the fly-in took place. After arriving and signing in, I was directed to the Midwest delegation where I met with three other people sitting around a white-clothed table. I sat down and introduced myself and learned all their names and their states of origin. Michigan, Indiana and South Dakota made up our Midwest delegation along with Andrew Moriarty from Forward acting as our point person for the rest of the trip.

This reception was so fulfilling; I had the absolute pleasure to hear from Julie Rodriguez, senior advisor to President Joe Biden and the granddaughter of legendary labor leader Cezar Chavez. Her encouraging remarks and the words shared by Forward leadership were incredible. For the first time in my life, I was in a room full of professionals, students and activists that understood and related to my situation.

It is important to note that the leadership at Forward is almost exclusively composed of current or former DACA recipients, meaning that the organizing forces had a unique perspective and understanding.

Nov. 16

Escalante outside congressional office

Katherine Escalante standing with other DACA recipients outside of Rep. Kelly Armstrong’s (R-ND) office

Wednesday, Nov. 16, was the most exciting (albeit intimidating) day of them all. We met with congressional representatives, staffers and lobbyists to advocate directly for DACA. We had official meetings with four representative’s offices, a press conference with senators, a professional photo shoot outside the Capitol and the hope of getting lunch somewhere in between. Safe to say, it was a busy day.

Our first meeting was with Rep. Kelly Armstrong from North Dakota, who shared encouraging remarks with me and the folks I was with about his support for DACA.

After we met with Rep. Armstrong, we stopped by the office of Dusty Johnson, the representative from South Dakota, to see if he would take an impromptu meeting. Although he was unavailable, we were able to meet with one of his staffers, who politely nodded and smiled at our stories while sharing that he believed that Johnson was on the same page as Armstrong in term of supporting DACA recipients.

After wrapping up our meeting with Johnson’s staff, we had a press conference with democratic senators. We made our way down to the front of the Capitol where representatives of dozens of news outlets met us. We stood behind the podium and waited for our speakers to begin.

Escalante with Sen. Durbin

Escalante and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) outside the Capitol after a press conference for DACA

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Sen. Cortez Masto (D-NV) all spoke just a couple of feet from me, urging Congress to enact legislative protections for DACA recipients. Behind them, 50 of us Dreamers stood in solidarity.

Next was our meeting with Rep. Rashida Talib and her staff. The staff was incredibly supportive of passing legislation and willing to compromise to do so. We exited the meeting with high hopes.

After that, we headed over to the meeting I was most nervous about, the meeting with the South Dakota senator’s office. We approached Canon, the senate office building that houses my home state’s senator. Once we arrived at Sen. Mike Round’s office, we met with his legislative aide.

I was able to share my experience growing up in South Dakota as an undocumented student. I told how I had waited my entire life for my 15th birthday to be DACA eligible and how just two weeks shy of my birthday, the program had ended. I also told how during the short amount of time that DACA was sustained in 2021, I was able to get my application in and accepted.

I communicated how I’ve been on both sides of being just a couple of weeks too late and just a couple of weeks too lucky. I was able to tell them how much my life was changed all because of DACA and to truly attempt to communicate the urgency around protections. It was incredible to hear Rounds’s legislative aide communicate to us that Rounds, a staunch Republican, may in fact support DACA protections once again as he did in 2018.

Escalanate with Sen. Peters
Escalante and other DACA recipients meet with Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) 

Last, at 4:30 p.m. we met with Sen. Gary Peters from Michigan who is already a strong advocate for DACA. This allowed us to end our day, with a positive and supportive tone. An incredible ending to an incredible day.

Written by Katherine Escalante