Colorado Springs crowd rallies against move to end protections for ‘Dreamers’
Author: Jakob Rodgers, The Gazette - September 6, 2017 - Updated: September 6, 2017
Chanting “undocumented and unafraid,” hundreds of undocumented immigrants, attorneys and their supporters rallied Tuesday evening in downtown Colorado Springs against President Donald Trump’s decision to end protections for so-called “Dreamers.”
“He has turned his back on all undocumented youths and leaders,” said Luis Antezana, 25, himself a Dreamer from Bolivia who teaches at Harrison High School. “We will not stand for it. We will fight back and we will unite.”
The march through downtown Colorado Springs came hours after the Trump administration announced plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, in six months.
The program granted two-year work permits for more than 2,000 young people in El Paso County and nearly 800,000 nationally who were brought by their parents to the country illegally as young children.
With the onus now on lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass more permanent protections, local undocumented immigrants called for action.
The move reeked of “trying to bury us,” Antezana said.
But, he added: “They don’t know that we’re seeds.”
Undocumented and DACA- covered students from Harrison, Palmer and Mitchell high schools peppered the crowd. At one point, about 20 of them took the stage at Acacia Park to chants of “the people united will never be defeated.”
One of them, a Harrison High School sophomore, had yet to submit her application for a DACA permit.
No longer able to do so, she broke into sobs at school.
“I really started thinking: ‘Do I have a future in America?'” said the girl, 15, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We will fight until we make this right.”
Under Trump’s plan, people whose permits expire before March 5 can renew their permits over the next month. But anyone whose permit expires after March 5 will lose those protections.
For them, it’s all up to Congress. That reality left Yesenia Macias, 23, at a loss for words.
A single mother, she used her DACA permit to most recently get a job at a mortgage lending firm downtown. She didn’t make more than when she had no Social Security number and worked in the food service industry, but gone is the workplace harassment she faced while working off the books.
Her permit expires in May – leaving her no chance to renew, and her future in the U.S. dependent on Congress.
She wiped tears from her cheek Tuesday while marching down Tejon Street with her 7-year-old daughter – an American citizen born in Colorado Springs.
“I’m her sole source of income,” said Macias, who came from Mexico. “I go to work every day, and now that’s going to be taken away from me. I don’t know what we’re going to do.
“I can’t show her to study and work hard and go to school,” she added. “It’s all happened so sudden. We’re going backward instead of forward, I feel like.”
Trump tweeted late Tuesday that he plans to “revisit this issue” if Congress does not to act in time.
Lacking much faith in a congressional deal, immigration attorneys urged anyone eligible for renewal to do so immediately.
Hundreds of clients flooded the phone lines of local immigration attorneys. They spoke of concerns for their parents, who are here without documentation and could not participate in the program.
Though federal immigration officials said Dreamers would be a low priority for deportation after March 5, there’s no way to guarantee the same of the parents who brought them into the country, said Stephanie Izaguirre, a Colorado Springs immigration attorney. “One of the things that’s really hard is most of these people feel like Americans,” Izaguirre said. “I think the idea of being undocumented has always been kind of theoretical, especially for the younger people with DACA.”
Catholic Charities of Central Colorado vowed to pressure Congress for a legislative fix.
“This is also a day that should energize us,” Eric Pavri, an immigration attorney for the nonprofit, yelled to the crowd.
Democrats and some moderate Republicans reacted with dismay.
“President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program unnecessarily jeopardizes the futures of more than 17,000 Coloradans,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper in a statement, adding that “we will not turn our back on these young people and neither should our country.”
Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, however, defended the decision – saying he was “encouraged” by Trump’s move.
“I have always opposed any type of amnesty and will continue to do so,” Lamborn said in a statement. “But I also want to find meaningful solutions to this difficult problem, solutions that uphold the rule of law, protect our country, and ensure fairness in our immigration processes.”
But over and over, immigration advocates repeated the same word Tuesday: “Fight.”
Jonathan Peña, 16, said he was among dozens of Mitchell High School students who staged a walkout at the school Tuesday. Though a citizen himself, Peña said 10 of his relatives use DACA permits and many more remain undocumented.
“What’s going to happen to their careers – to their jobs, to their families?” Peña asked.
Nayeli Vargas, 20, wondered the same thing – her family indicative of the challenges DACA recipients now face.
Born in Mexico, she came to the U.S. at age 5 and has used the program to get two jobs – one at an assisted living facility and the other at a memory care unit. Much of that money is going to a college fund to become a massage therapist, she said.
Though two of her siblings were born in the U.S., two others have DACA permits and her parents remain undocumented.
“You just don’t know if you’re ever going to come home and they won’t be there,” Vargas said.
She and her siblings just renewed their permits, so they can stay through 2019.
“The question is what happens after those two years,” she said, tears running down her cheeks.
At that moment, a stranger walked up to her and gave a hug. “We’re going to take care of you,” the woman said.
Colorado Politics reporter Ernest Luning contributed to this report.