More than 150 people chanted in protest outside the John H. Wood Federal Courthouse Tuesday afternoon following the Trump administration’s formal announcement to end DACA, a program that granted two-year, renewable work permits to more than 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and protected them from deportation.
Dozens of DACA recipients – some teachers and many of them still students – stepped up to the podium to tell personal experiences about “growing up in the shadows.” Many struggled to hold back tears. Joining them in support were local politicians like State Reps. Diego Bernal (D-123), Diana Arévalo (D-116), and Tomas Uresti (D-118), among others.
“Today I feel disappointed and heartbroken that our president didn’t see our humanity and our contributions,” said Jessica Azua, a DACA recipient and member of the Texas Organizing Project. “I’m angry that he didn’t have the courage to deliver the message today himself. Instead of being a leader he tried to wash his hands by putting it on Congress.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that the Obama-era program is unconstitutional and, therefore, being “rescinded.” Sessions added that the immigration program was responsible for a surge of minors at the southern border and lack of job opportunities for Americans.
“All immigration policies should serve the interests of the people of the United States – lawful immigrant and native born alike,” Sessions said Tuesday during a press briefing at the Justice Department. “Congress should carefully and thoughtfully pursue the types of reforms that are right for the American people. Our nation is comprised of good and decent people who want their government’s leaders to fulfill their promises and advance an immigration policy that serves the national interest.”
During Tuesday night’s rally, community organizers held up signs in support of DACA and all undocumented immigrants. Artists and ‘Dreamers’ read poems, and political leaders hugged and encouraged DACA recipients. Chants of “Si Se Puede!” and “Undocumented but unafraid!” filled the air, as people raised their fists in unison after speakers took turns speaking from the podium. The protest in San Antonio was one of dozens held across the country in other major U.S. cities such as Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C.
“This president does not represent the values of our people here in San Antonio and across America,” Arévalo said, adding that Dreamers must continue to come out of the shadows and fight for their cause. “We are a country filled with immigrants, we are the United States of America because not all of us were born here, but we came here to seek refuge and seek a better life. Today is the beginning of a new fight – and America will rise.”
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), who are both first-generation Americans and children of undocumented immigrants, called for community members to raise their voices and be a voice for the voiceless.
“I feel so disappointed in our government on so many levels,” Gonzales said. “There are so many people in my community that have become very quiet and are afraid to report crimes and what’s happening in their neighborhoods. We need strong voices on their behalf because they are afraid. We need to come together, not just for our Dreamers but all members of our community.”
Leaders of institutions across the state have echoed the call for congressional action.
UT System Chancellor William McRaven released a statement on Tuesday in support of DACA students. Foreign-born Texans, McRaven said, make the state “stronger, smarter, more competitive, and more attuned to the rest of our ever-shrinking globe.”
McRaven commended DACA students’ contributions and urged the federal government to take their valuable role into account. “… While I understand the concern of the President and others about how DACA was implemented, the critical fact is that I and the UT System believe in our DACA students and that their opportunities to contribute to Texas and our nation should be upheld and continued by our leaders in Washington,” McRaven stated.
In a tweet preceding the announcement by Sessions, President Donald Trump alluded to the role Congress must play in replacing DACA.
“Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!” the president’s Tuesday tweet read.
Sessions’ announcement unleashed a flurry of statements from lawmakers condemning and applauding the recension. However, they acknowledged, the ball is now in their court.
“Now it’s up to Congress to do the right thing and pass legislation that will protect DACA recipients,” U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) said in a statement. “Republicans must make a choice: will they stand with President Trump and help carry out his mass deportation plan, or will they act on behalf of the majority of Americans who support DACA? This decision is not just about policy; it defines our morality. There has never been a more urgent need for Congress to act and take a stand for Dreamers.”
The decision to end DACA marks a “return to the rule of law,” U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement, and “overturns the last of the Obama Administration’s amnesty agenda.”
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While the next steps rest with Congress, leaders from every level of government took to social media to weigh in.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg posted on Facebook. “As Mayor of San Antonio, a city rooted in compassion, my job is to advocate for the rights of all. DACA recipients are our students and our employees, our family members and our neighbors. They contribute to our country as taxpayers, and their innovative ideas, hard work and dedication are the foundation of a strong community.”
Former U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement of his own on Facebook, calling the decision to end DACA “cruel” and “self-defeating.”
After receiving an email from U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) informing constituents about the decision and affirming that “protecting Dreamers must be nonnegotiable,” Rev. John Gardner was encouraged. Gardner’s San Antonio Mennonite Fellowship has welcomed influxes of refugees and otherwise advocated for immigrants. He agreed with Obama’s assessment of Dreamers and the complicated topic of immigration.
“These are my friends. These are like my family members,” Gardner said. “The justification [for rescinding DACA], obviously, is that this is about law and order and that this was executive overreach. I don’t think it is, I think it’s rooted in racism. But even if you want to make it about the law, let’s go all the way back to God’s law.”
God’s law, Gardner said, welcomes the immigrant and the stranger. “Shame on us to benefit from a system that doesn’t,” Gardner said.
The great majority of the estimated 800,000 Dreamers are Mexican nationals who were brought to the U.S. as minors. On Tuesday, the Mexican government issued a statement urging U.S. authorities “to find a quick resolution to the legal uncertainty” confronting DACA beneficiaries.
The Mexican government, through the use of its 50 consulates in the U.S., has committed to guarantee consular protection to those affected and added that it will receive “young Dreamers” who return to Mexico with “open arms.” The Foreign Ministry outlined several aid initiatives, including scholarships and special work opportunities for those who may be forced to return.
The effort to replace DACA could be more bipartisan than some anticipate, at least for delegations from states where DACA directly effects large portions of the population. In Texas alone, 120,000 young people filed for DACA status following Obama’s 2012 executive order instituting the program, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said he is ready to work with members on both sides of the aisle to protect the Dreamers in a “broken” immigration system.
“Congress must provide a permanent, legislative solution for children brought here through no fault of their own,” Hurd said in a statement. “We should create immigration policies that strengthen our economy and keep Americans safe, which is why I look forward to working with my colleagues to make a permanent, legislative solution that allows people who have only known America as their home, to stay and continue contributing to our Nation’s culture, economy, and history.”
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) voiced support for the DREAM Act. In a statement issued Tuesday McCain said, “I will be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to devise and pass comprehensive immigration reform, which will include the DREAM Act.”
Several immigration reform bills have been filed in Congress. Among them, the RAISE Act is favored by Trump’s “America First” Republicans, while the Dream Act of 2017 has garnered bipartisan support from the other end of the spectrum. The ENLIST Act and BRIDGE Act both aim at partial reform.
- RAISE Act – The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), cuts green cards by 50% and caps the number of annual refugees at 50,000. The bill limits family-sponsored immigration to children under the age of 21 and spouses of those with documented legal status in the U.S. The bill gives preference to highly skilled workers when issuing visas.
- Dream Act of 2017 – Sponsored by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and a bipartisan coalition, the 2017 Dream Act is a reprisal of an ongoing effort to provide a path to citizenship, especially for children brought to the U.S. by parents without documentation.
- ENLIST Act – The Encourarge New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-California), allows immigrants unlawfully residing in the U.S. to gain legal status by serving in the military.
- BRIDGE Act – The Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act, also sponsored by Graham, does not provide a path to citizenship, but provides a temporary status for eligible immigrants so that they could work for three years from the date the bill is enacted. Eligibility requirements are essentially the same as DACA. U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) has said he will attempt to force a vote on the BRIDGE Act.
- RACA – The Recognizing America’s Children Act is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida). It allows five-year conditional permanent resident status contingent upon enrollment in school, enlisting in the military, employment or other criteria. The program applies primarily to DACA-eligible populations, and allows for participants to file for a permanent green card at the end of the program.
“I think there are certain senators and representatives that are really advocating for [a legislative solution],” said Diego Mancha Dominguez, a Dreamer who came to the U.S. when he was 8 years old and attended the Tuesday rally. “The BRIDGE Act would allow and solidify that, but it’s kind of stagnated since its introduction. It’s not only defending DACA now, it’s looking at the whole equation and looking into undocumented people as a whole.”
While Congress weighs and debates proposed legislation, hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients are wading through the immediate implications of the Trump administration’s announcement.
“Let’s remember that DACA was won not by politicians but by brave undocumented youth,” said RAICES Community Organizer Barbie Hurtado, who also is an immigrant. “They put their [lives] on the line for their community and we can do it again. Now is not the time to be afraid, it is the time to organize. DACA is proof that organizing led by those who are directly impacted works. The end of this program is a call to action …. to fight for all immigrants – those with and without DACA.”