Nation/World

Pelosi holds House floor for hours in defense of ‘dreamers’

  • Author: Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times
  • Updated: February 7
  • Published February 7

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is shown speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives in this still grab taken from video on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 7, 2018. (U.S. House TV / Handout via Reuters )

WASHINGTON — Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, took to the House floor at precisely 10:04 a.m. EST Wednesday, intent on speaking about the young unauthorized immigrants known as "Dreamers."

More than six hours later, she was still talking.

Her marathon monologue — highly unusual for the House, which has no equivalent to the filibuster in the Senate — came as Republicans are scrambling to pass legislation to keep the government open. A short-term funding bill expires Friday.

Pelosi has said she will not vote for the measure; she is protesting its lack of protection for the Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, who have been shielded from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, an Obama-era initiative that President Donald Trump has suspended.

Her talk was quickly dubbed the DACA-Buster on Twitter. (Twitter users also noted, in admiration, that six hours in, Pelosi was still wearing her 4-inch heels.)

For hour after hour, Pelosi, 77, read heart-rending testimonies from Dreamers who had written their representatives about their lives. There was Andrea Seabra, who is serving in the Air Force, and whose father was a member of the Peruvian air force. And Carlos Gonzales, who once worked as an aide to former Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif. And Al Okere, whose father was killed by the Nigerian police after he wrote in a newspaper criticizing the Nigerian government.

At one point, perhaps running out of stories, she suggested she might turn to the Bible. "Perhaps I should bring my rosary, blessed by the Pope," Pelosi said.

An estimated 690,000 young immigrants brought to the country illegally have been protected under DACA, and roughly 1.1 million more are eligible but did not apply. When Trump suspended the program in September, he gave Congress six months to come up with a replacement. Democrats and their progressive allies had hoped to use the must-pass spending bill to carry legislation to protect the Dreamers.

In the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has promised an open debate on immigration legislation if a deal is not reached by Thursday. In the House, Pelosi is calling on Speaker Paul Ryan to make a similar commitment. But that may not be enough for some of the advocates, who are furious that, as they see it, the Dreamers are being left behind.

"We want a negotiated solution that's part of this spending bill — not a vague promise of floor action after it," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, an immigrants' rights group. "We're disappointed that a deal was cut without us, and we're on the outside looking in, and we're going to ask Democrats and Republicans who care about Dreamers to vote no."