Politics & Government

Raleigh marchers rally in support of DACA, call on Congress to act

Stacy Buendia, a dental assistant from Marion, was one of about 250 people who took part in the Defend DACA March in downtown Raleigh on Sunday.
Stacy Buendia, a dental assistant from Marion, was one of about 250 people who took part in the Defend DACA March in downtown Raleigh on Sunday. rstradling@newsobserver.com

More than 250 people marched through the streets of Raleigh on Sunday in support of an Obama-era program that allows people who were brought into the country illegally as children to remain here and work and get an education.

President Donald Trump announced on Sept. 5 that he would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, over two years beginning in March. Some of the nearly 800,000 young adults who enrolled in the program would be eligible for deportation then if Congress doesn’t write the program into law.

Several who took part in the march and speakers at the rally that followed it Sunday are beneficiaries of DACA. Stacy Buendia of Marion was brought to the United States from Mexico when she was 8, and says she learned she wasn’t in the country legally when her friends were planning a trip to the Bahamas her senior year in high school. Her mother told her if she left the country, she might not get back in.

Under DACA, Buendia attended Western Piedmont Community College as an in-state student and now works as a dental assistant.

“DACA allowed us to come out of the shadows and not be afraid,” said Buendia, who carried a sign that read, “My dreams do not have an expiration date!”

Trump said he was phasing out the program rather than simply ending it to “provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act” on immigration reform that would include a policy toward children brought into the country illegally. For years, Congress failed to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, which was first introduced in 2001.

“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” Trump said in a statement. “But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”

In a tweet later the day he announced the end of the program, Trump said Congress now had six months to “legalize DACA,” and that if it didn’t he would revisit the issue.

U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Chapel Hill, told the marchers Sunday that if the DREAM Act were put before Congress now that it would pass with bipartisan support, in part because of Trump’s actions to end the DACA program.

“I really think people sense the injustice in exposing people in this way,” he said in an interview before addressing the crowd.

Republicans are starting to craft new versions of the DREAM Act. Last week, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and two other senators introduced what they call the SUCCEED Act, or the “Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education and Defending our nation Act.” The act is similar to the latest version of the DREAM Act, but with additional restrictions and requirements. Both allow people brought to the country illegally as minors to remain if they are employed, in school or serving in the military, and both provide a pathway to citizenship – in no less than 15 years in the case of the SUCCEED Act.

“For years, Congress has tried but failed to provide legal certainty for undocumented children who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own,” Tillis said in a statement when the act was introduced last Monday. “The SUCCEED Act is a fair and compassionate solution that requires individuals to demonstrate they are productive and law-abiding members of their communities to earn legal status. This is a merit-based solution that should unite members of both parties.”

Among those hoping for Congress to act is Rosa Maria Andrade, who came to the United States at age 6 and learned that she was not a citizen when someone asked for her Social Security number to take a driver’s education class her sophomore year at East Wake High School. Andrade is 31 now and married with four children. She spoke at the march because she said she wants people to know that North Carolina is home for thousands of people enrolled in DACA, and that ending the program would hurt families.

“To us, it feels like it’s not fair, because we didn’t make the decision to come here at such a young age,” she said.

Trump and his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, suggested that a reason for ending DACA was to undo some of the harm done to native-born Americans through higher unemployment and lower wages that result from illegal immigration. “Above all else, we must remember that young Americans have dreams, too,” Trump said at the time.

But Andrade told marchers that she and her husband run two businesses that employ people painting and cleaning houses.

“We are not taking anyone’s job,” she said. “We’re actually creating jobs.”

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling