By JOHN HENRY
On Tuesday morning, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a news conference to announce the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Though DACA recipients technically immigrated to the United States illegally, most of them did so while too young to remember, immigrating alongside parents and family members seeking a new life. This group of young people is known to the world as DREAMers. There are currently 800,000 DREAMers registered for the DACA program with another 1 million eligible, and in the wake of the White House’s decision to end the DACA program, their future is uncertain.
The DACA program was initially implemented by former President Obama in 2012. Through the power of an executive order, DREAMers whose parents brought them to America for a better life gained the opportunity to apply for a 2-year renewable visa. Such newfound documentation allows DREAMers to attend college, work legally, obtain driver’s licenses in some states, and be temporarily protected from deportation. The program grants young immigrants two years of legal limbo until they can apply for a renewal, but it does not provide a pathway to citizenship.
In a world of growing anti-immigration sentiment and complicated government programs, the DREAMers are thriving under pressure. Statistics surrounding the program are stunning, with most recipients having no felonies on record and high employment and graduation rates. The numbers tell the story of a phenomenal group of young immigrants, but they say nothing of the hardships and anxieties a DREAMer faces in modern America. They completely ignore the families and communities who remain undocumented with no government assurances. While numbers seem to speak volumes about a young generation of immigrants, many accolades seem to fall on deaf ears within the administration and in parts of the country. It is these deaf ears that sparked protests across the country following the administration’s decision to end DACA, and those same ears that were met with a defiant chorus late this Tuesday in Colorado Springs.
“Undocumented and unafraid!” rose from a mass of nearly 200 people gathered in Acacia Park. On stage stood core organizers Monica Perez, Nayda Benitez, and Luis Antevana. The three passed back and forth a microphone and delivered a news conference in both English and Spanish, imploring the Colorado Springs community to stand up on behalf of DACA recipients and their families.
“A three-month-old. How are you going to hold her accountable?” organizer Monica Perez asked the crowd. The crowd in turn stood in respectful silence, breaking occasionally to affirm a speaker with loud cheers. Three organizers, allies, a veteran, a city council woman, and candidates for house and the governorship each mounted the stage to declare their opposition to ending DACA. Over the course of an hour, the community vented current anger and pledged lasting effort to defend DREAMers, standing behind organizers’ demands to make Colorado Springs a sanctuary city, for city council to defend DACA residents, for educators to protect their students, and for the city to create programs promoting diversity and inclusion. After the news conference, the rally took to the streets.
Activists filled sidewalks with protest signs as one chant after the other bounced off the buildings of Tejon Street. Only stopped by the occasional red light, the activists made their way to Senator Cory Gardner’s office. There were no staff members in Gardner’s office but that did not stop a series of DACA recipients from taking to the bullhorn. Each shared stories of their immigration to the U.S. as a young child and described the reality of living a life worthy of statistical praise. A mother raised her son’s graduation robe high above her head and asked the crowd to defend her son. Cars occasionally honked their affirmation from the street.
“I’m really glad of the outcome, it really did show that there are a lot of us willing to fight for what’s right,” said Perez.
The rally and march may have been filled with energy, but the fight is far from won. In phasing out DACA, the administration has set aside the next six months for Congress to act. If Congress can pass legislation that extends the DACA program, or create a more long-term solution, then the 800,000 DREAMers will once again have futures grounded on American soil.