When House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi spoke for eight hours and seven minutes on the floor of the House of Representatives last Wednesday, everybody remarked on the speech’s record-breaking length.
But they nearly overlooked her stirring defense of the undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, who cling desperately to the hope that they won’t be deported.
Observers missed another length as well — the length of time Pelosi has been reaching out to such people, and the distance covered between Baltimore’s Little Italy and Washington’s Capitol Hill.
Now 77, Pelosi was a little girl named Nancy D’Alesandro when she first assisted America’s newcomers. Her father, Tommy D’Alesandro “the elder,” was mayor back then, a three-termer whose City Hall run coincided with his daughter’s school years.
When other girls of her era were reading movie magazines to learn the dating habits of Tab Hunter and Fabian, young Nancy was writing the names of voters on yellow pads of paper. She was helping people find jobs, or putting them in touch with welfare services, or helping them find an apartment in public housing.
They lined up every morning and evening outside the D’Alesandro home at Albermarle and Fawn streets. Young Nancy sat at a little desk just inside the front door, beneath framed portraits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, with campaign buttons and bumper stickers spread about, and she listened to people’s problems.
Many were immigrants who spoke no English. She saw them in all of their vulnerability, and their plight stayed with her all through the years. And she stood there the other day with such vivid images still in her head.
Across eight hours, she spoke about a Dreamer who’s serving in the U.S. Air Force, and another who once worked as a congressional aide. They’re among nearly 700,000 of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals folks who came here as children and are now threatened with deportation, even though they’ve known no other country but America.
President Donald Trump suspended the DACA program in September and gave Congress six months to replace it – or witness mass deportations.
As Pelosi spoke on the House floor, Republicans were fighting to pass legislation to keep the government open. Pelosi was protesting the legislation’s lack of protection for the Dreamers.
She’s been joined by immigrants’ rights advocates who are angry with both parties – the Republicans for failing to challenge Trump and the Democrats for lack of political spine.
But they have a champion in Pelosi.
It’s been in her blood since she was a schoolgirl back in Baltimore.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.