WASHINGTON – Hundreds of demonstrators marched peacefully – but not quietly – in Washington Tuesday to protest the Trump administration’s decision to “wind down” deferred deportation protections for illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
The demonstrators marched from the White House to the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, banging drums, waving American flags and chanting in Spanish, “a community united will never be defeated.”
Some of the demonstrators were DACA recipients like Carlos Arellano, a Phoenix nursing student who has been able to attend school using one of the benefits of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
Arellano took the day off from his two jobs to fly to Washington and make his voice heard, wearing his stethoscope as he marched and holding a sign that said “#DACA #DREAMer #nursingstudent.”
See related stories:
“This is the face of DACA. I’m a DREAMer and I’m just like everyone else – there’s no difference between them and me,” Arellano said. “I work very hard, I’m an American …. If you have a dream, if you like helping people then you are a DREAMer because that’s what being a DREAMer is all about.”
DACA was enacted by then-President Barack Obama by executive order in 2012. It allowed immigrants who met specific criteria – the key one being they had been brought to this country illegally as children – to apply for protection from deportation for up to two years. The program also gave recipients work authorization and other benefits.
Nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants have qualified for the program, 28,000 of whom are in Arizona.
President Donald Trump campaigned on pledge to do away with the program, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the administration would rescind the program, calling it unconstitutional and an example of executive overreach by the Obama administration.
The administration will phase the program out over the next six months, during which time it is calling on Congress to approve a permanent solution. In the meantime, the administration will accept DACA renewal applications for the next month, but it will no longer accept new applications.
If DACA is eliminated next March, coverage for those in the program could continue for up to two years while their protection expired. But administration officials insisted that, while those who lose their DACA protection could be subject to deportation, they would not be a high priority for law enforcement or immigration officials.
That was little solace for the protesters, who began marching just minutes after Sessions’ announcement.
-Cronkite News video by Fraser Allan Best
Roxie Herbekian, president of UNITE Here Local 7 in Baltimore, a labor union that represents workers in the hospitality and travel industries, said she was devastated by the administration’s decision. She said the union is more than willing to continue to stand up for the rights of these workers.
“These young children that were brought over here illegally years and years ago who have grown up, who are now being told to leave; this includes many of our members in the Phoenix area who work at hotels and who work at the airport,” Herbekian said. “This event is just one thing, this is going to be a constant barrage of activity, we’ve had marches, we’ve had meetings with elected officials – this is not going to stop until we get justice for our workers.”
Morale was high for the march, but many of the protesters were like former Tucson resident Vivianne Peckham who said she is not hopeful that Congress can find a solution in the six months the administration has allowed to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“It’s hard to be hopeful about Congress at all right now because Republicans have been so intransigent and so obstructive and wanting to defeat everything that Obama did,” Peckham said. “It’s good, at least, to see people speaking out en masse; not just immigrants but people who work with and are friends with immigrants, people who believe in basic human decency.”
DACA is another in a long list of items Congress has to deal with in coming months, including health care and tax reform, the debt ceiling and passing a budget before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
Before the six-month deadline hits, demonstrators said they will continue to march, call their representatives, spread their message and encourage Congress to draft a piece of legislation. For Arellano, the six-month deadline is important – he is nine months away from graduation.
After finding a fellow DACA recipient who is also a nursing student, Arellano said that Congress must meet the deadline if it wants to protect the dreams of immigrants who wish to become citizens and give back to their communities “just like everyone else.”
– Cronkite News reporter Fraser Allan Best contributed to this report.