In this video by Connect reporter Sal Serpe, community and city council members protest the DACA decision.
Dismayed but determined protesters gathered Tuesday in cities across the United States, nervously waiting for the hammer to fall on a program that had brought stability to their uncertain lives.
As the news was announced that President Trump was cutting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — albeit with a six-month delay — the protesters’ faces reflected dismay. The end of the Obama administration’s program to protect so-called Dreamers marked another disappointment in a 35-year movement to improve immigrants’ prospects in education and the legal work force.
While peaceful protesters united their voices against Trump’s decision, they were determined to continue the fight to preserve the program that temporarily permitted undocumented youth to study, work and join the military.
DACA recipient and youth organizer Olivia Vazquez, 23, urged protesters in Philadelphia to keep pushing for permanent protection.
“Even if [Trump] takes DACA away, we must remember we were the ones who made DACA happen in the first place,” Vazquez said. “We were the ones who pushed … and it is because of us that DACA exists. We have to remember that, and we have to gain our strength from that.”
“Our work is not done,” Vazquez said. “It’s just starting.”
Vasquez and a group of more than 100 peaceful protesters — monitored by police on horseback — marched to Philadelphia’s Federal Detention Center, where undocumented immigrants wait for judicial hearings and possible deportation.
The crowd carried guitars, bullhorns and homemade signs, and they offered a chorus of protest chants. Hidden from sight, the detainees pounded on the glass, letting the protesters know they could hear them.
“We are here and we will not leave,” the crowd said in Spanish. “And if they kick us out, we will come back.”
The termination of the DACA program, which was created in 2012, was expected when Trump made it a key campaign promise. Nevertheless, DACA recipients were unable to hold back tears as they stood outside the detention center where their dreams could also disintegrate.
“Not one more deportation,” the protesters shouted as a helicopter hovered threateningly above their heads.
An early milestone in the movement to provide education for undocumented youth came in 1982 with Plyer v. Doe, a Supreme Court case in which denial of K-12 education for undocumented students was deemed unconstitutional.
Fourteen years later, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act passed, prohibiting post-secondary institutions from allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition unless every other student had been offered the same benefit.
Today, 21 states offer undocumented students in-state tuition for higher education. California, Texas, Utah and New York were the first states to lift this restriction; Maine was the most recent to make that change.
“These youth need our protection and encouragement,” said Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California system, in a statement Tuesday. “It is incumbent upon Congress to approve legislation that removes the uncertainty caused by President Trump’s misguided decision.”
California’s is the largest public university system in the nation and has continuously shown support for undocumented students. California Assembly Bill 540 law allows undocumented students to receive financial aid, but only after distributing it to documented students first.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, introduced in the Senate in 2001, would have allowed states to determine residency for higher education purposes and would have halted removal of undocumented, college-bound students who have lived in the United States for a number of years.
The so-called Dream Act has since been proposed several times. In 2012, after another version of the act failed in Congress, the Obama administration created DACA.
“It made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents,” former President Obama said Tuesday in a statement.
Under the Trump ruling, DACA recipients will be able to keep their work permits until their two-year permit expires. Those that expire within the next six months have until Oct. 5 to renew them.
Tony Solis, a 20-year-old student at Davidson College in North Carolina who attends the school on a scholarship and is a DACA recipient, was studying abroad in Paris and had to rush back to the United States when the program’s potential termination was announced.
Solis said in a phone interview that he had always been aware of his immigration status, but he didn’t fully understand its implications until an earlier opportunity to study abroad arose.
“Junior year in high school, my AP French teacher wanted me to go to a French exchange program and I told her I can’t do that,” said Solis, who could not apply for a passport because of his undocumented status. “She thought it was for financial reasons, which was true, I couldn’t afford it either.”
Solis says his teacher went out of her way to apply for a grant on his behalf.
“I can’t leave the country and come back,” Solis told his teacher. “She went out of her way and got a grant because she really wanted me to participate in the program, and it really hurt to come to terms to what [being undocumented] meant.”
The situation changed with the enactment of DACA, which allowed Solis to apply for a travel permit from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
On Tuesday, Trump called on Congress to assume responsibility for passing legislation for immigrant youth. By the time DACA expires in 2018, lawmakers will be facing midterm elections, which may complicate their willingness or lack thereof to support undocumented youth.
Business leaders and entrepreneurs have shown no such reluctance. Tim Cook of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook have joined others in expressing support for at-risk immigrant youth in a letter to Trump.
“At least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies count DACA recipients among their employees,” said the letter, which hundreds of business leaders have signed. “Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy.”
It is unclear whether a compromise will be reached in Congress, but some DACA recipients are more hopeful than not.
“Those who hold positions of leadership are coming out saying they support legislation that similarly reflects DACA,” said Solis, the Davidson student. “That’s something that, although it is not a comfortable situation to be in right now, at least it is providing me with a sense of hope for what the future can be.”
About the Author
Leydy Rangel Perez is a recent graduate of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where she received a B.S. in communication, with an emphasis in journalism and a political science minor. Learn more about her here.
About the Filmmaker
Sal Serpe, a recent graduate of San Francisco State University, received his bachelor of arts degree in broadcast journalism and minored in theatre arts. Learn more about him here.