Young immigrants without documentation authorizing them to live in the United States rallied with others in the North Carolina capital on Tuesday, vowing to fight back against the Trump administration’s decision to end the Obama-era program that allowed them to work, go to school and get driver’s licenses like many of the Americans they grew up around without fear of deportation.
Dozens of people gathered outside the federal courthouse in Raleigh shortly after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shielded nearly 800,000 young people from deportation.
They hoisted homemade signs such as “Save our dreamers” and “#Here to stay.” After speeches and rallying cries they marched two to three abreast in front of the courthouse and federal offices to chants in English and Spanish of “a people united, will not be defeated.”
A similar rally was held in Durham in the evening.
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“This whole political debate is absolutely ridiculous, the concept of illegality is not real, we were not born illegal,” Jorge Ramos, a 20-year-old Wake County resident and DACA recipient, told a crowd of supporters at the Raleigh event. “This is all just a complex facade to further criminalize our people and exploit us for our cheap labor and unmerited contributions to this country. All we want to do is go to school and work. Why is that so hard to swallow? ... I know that in the end, justice will be on our side. Don’t be discouraged. We are worth so much more than this and we are here to stay.”
In a widely anticipated announcement, Sessions said Obama’s executive order in 2012 extending temporary relief to young immigrants who were either brought to this country illegally as children or stayed here after visas expired “deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions.”
“The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences,” Sessions said. “It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”
The DACA initiative came after a decade of failed attempts to adopt the Dream Act in Congress to protect the same group of immigrants.
Supporters lauded the former president for using his executive authority, saying he had provided relief to immigrants in the country whose lack of legal status and paperwork was no fault of their own. They had arrived in the country as children, attended U.S. schools, adapted to the American culture and knew little of their homelands.
During his presidential campaign, Trump said the program “defied federal law” and he promised to end it as a part of his platform to be tough on immigration.
But once in office, Trump showed ambiguity about the fate of DACA, saying he would treat the program with heart. As late as Friday, he told reporters in the Oval Office: “We love the Dreamers. We love everybody. … We think the Dreamers are terrific.”
NC has 27,000 DACA recipients
But Trump supporters who cheered his calls at campaign rallies with echoes of “build that wall” pressured the president not to back down on his stand against the Obama program. Trump administration officials pushed the issue to Congress and called on lawmakers to come up with a legislative solution to address the immigration status of the “dreamers.”
“To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong,” Obama said on Facebook, urging Congress to provide them with relief to pursue education and build careers, home and families in this country. “It is self-defeating – because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel.”
A federal report updated in March shows that 49,712 deferred action applications have been approved and renewed in North Carolina, putting the number of recipients close to 27,385 that had been approved by then. That puts this state as eighth highest, just below Arizona. California, Texas and New York are at the top of the list.
Immigration and migration research institutes estimate that many more are eligible for the program in North Carolina. Some, though, have been reluctant to step forward for fear that others in their family also in this country without legal status could be targeted for deportation.
Yazmin Garcia was at the Raleigh rally, describing for news crews what she has accomplished since giving the federal government lots of personal information and fingerprints so she could be protected from deportation.
Garcia came to the United States from Mexico when she was 13 years old and settled in Raleigh with her family.
“You grew up not feeling like you were from here, and not feeling like you were from there sometimes,” Garcia said. “DACA helped solve those feelings and conflicts.”
Garcia, who became a DACA recipient in 2012, was able to get a degree from Guilford College, where she studied French and business. Now she’s studying social work in graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“Since then I have been able to do so many things that were impossible to do before, such as driving, working and even now going back to school for my master’s degree,” Garcia said. “We are now people who have been able to buy a house, drive, buy a car. We have a life, we have jobs, we’re part of society in ways that we were not before and all of that is at stake.”
It’s up to Congress
Since the Trump campaign, Garcia said, immigrants have been bracing for an end to DACA. “Since then we’ve been in fear,” Garcia added. “And this is not something new for the immigrant community.”
After the Sessions announcement, the federal Department of Homeland Security said it no longer will accept new applications for DACA. Those enrolled already will be able to continue working until their permits expire. Anyone whose permits expire by March 5, 2018, will be permitted to apply for two-year renewals as long as they do so by Oct. 5.
“President Trump has said repeatedly that he would treat DREAMers with ‘great heart,” U.S Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Chapel Hill, said in a statement. “While we have become accustomed to his broken promises, this may be his most heartless decision yet. Make no mistake: today’s announcement was driven entirely by cynical political calculations, not by any constitutional or legal requirement. But now that the decision has been made, Congress must act to fix it.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said Tuesday he will introduce legislation in the next week “that will provide a fair and rigorous path for undocumented children to earn legal status by requiring them to be employed, pursue higher education or serve in our Armed Forces. I know this kind of commonsense legislative fix can and should unite members of Congress, and I’ll be working closely with my colleagues on the path forward.”