Detroit – More than 100 DACA recipients and supporters braved frigid temperatures Wednesday and marched downtown urging federal lawmakers to include protection for young undocumented immigrants in legislation to keep the government running.
They carried signs and chanted, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and crowded into the Chrysler Building.
Last fall, President Donald Trump announced his administration would end the so-called Dreamer program, which shields people brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation, in March. The program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was ordered by former President Barack Obama.
Sergio Martinez of Detroit, a DACA recipient who was brought to Detroit as a child, said that for too long, politicians have used the Dreamers “as political pawns.”
Martinez was among those at a rally Wednesday urging Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters to ask for a “clean” version of DACA legislation before they support funding the government.
Martinez, 29, said, “Every day, we’re losing status. ... Every day, families are getting deported. ... Every day, children ... are being turned into orphans and being psychologically damaged.”
He added: “We need to do something right now. The Democratic Party is using our voice because we don’t have one to be a voice for them. We’re not going to do that any more. “We’ve been on the back burner and political pawns for so long that we are just fed up with it.”
David Sanchez, of the organization Michigan United, which helped organize the Wednesday event, said DACA recipients face uncertain futures if they are sent back to their birth countries, where they have not lived since they were young children.
“If they are forced to go back, it might be impossible to survive,” he said. “When we get to March 5, it goes from 122 people to thousands every single day.”
Xochitl Cossyleon, 24, a Detroit school teacher and DACA recipient who came to the U.S. when she was 2, said the debate on DACA “is a true emotional roller coaster” for her and others who face possible deportation.
“It’s like we’re on a bridge that ends in the middle,” Cossyleon said. “We need to complete that bridge and make a path to citizenship.”
Sanchez called on Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, to step up their support for the Dreamers.
“They’re saying one thing and doing another,” said Sanchez.
About eight DACA recipients conducted a sit-in demonstration at Stabenow’s Detroit office Wednesday. Calls for comment from Stabenow’s and Peters’ offices were not immediately returned.
Others at the rally called on Stabenow and Peters to help pass a “clean” DACA bill that would not include a wall to keep out illegal immigrants, a demand from Trump.
Numerous religious leaders like the Rev. W. J. Rideout III also took part in Wednesday’s rally. The Rev. Jack Eggleston, also a member of United Michigan, pleaded with Peters and Stabenow to “act this week” on the DACA legislation.
“Senator Stabenow, we know you are a fighter,” Eggleston said. “Senator Stabenow, stand up and fight for immigrants.”
The marchers said they want a DACA fix included in legislation that must pass by week’s end to keep the federal government open. Leaders of the Republican majority in Congress have said they favor passing a short-term funding extension and addressing DACA later.