Protesters who favor a law that would protect DACA recipients from the threat of deportation rallied Saturday at Roosevelt Park and marched to U.S. Sen. Gary Peters' Detroit office to shore up his support for the Dream Act.
The "Show up for the Dream" rally and march is organized by Michigan United, which describes itself as a coalition that has come together to "fight for the rights of homeowners, renters, immigrant workers, families, and students."
"What do we want?" said the Rev. W.J. Rideout III, leading the group of dozens east on Michigan Avenue, away from Roosevelt Park.
"Dream Act!" the group shouted.
"When do we want it?" Rideout asked.
Protesters carried banners and signs with slogans such as "Humanity has no borders," "Let my students dream," "Immigrants will make America great again," and "Come for one, face us all."
Motorists on Michigan Avenue looked on at group in curiosity, recorded the spectacle on their phones, honked their horns in support and shouted inaudibly from passing vehicles as the march made its way to Peters' office outside the McNamara Federal Building in downtown.
Saturday's march, an attempt to get the attention of Peters, comes two weeks after eight "Dreamers" led a sit-in at Sen. Debbie Stabenow's Detroit office.
The theme of both was the same: don't simply blame Republicans for opposing the Dream Act, wield power to get it passed.
Erik Shelley, a spokesman for Michigan United, said before Saturday's action that the rally and march come at a time when "things just seem to be coming to a head" on the issue, a time when "families are under attack," by "aggressive immigration policies that are attacking our families and communities."
The rally started at Roosevelt Park, said David Sanchez of Michigan United, because Corktown has historically been a home to Detroit's immigrants.
Last month, there was a brief shutdown of the U.S. government due to failure to pass a budget. The 69-hour shutdown ended after Democrats reluctantly voted to temporarily pay for resumed operations. They relented in return for Republican assurances that the Senate will soon take up the plight of young immigrant “dreamers."
"Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow took a stand to make sure the Dream Act was part of the budget resolution, but then that kind of collapsed," Shelley said. "We want to strengthen his back, make sure he stands strong this time. This was a rare position when he had some leverage, but a lot of that leverage has been lost, and we don't want the last of that to slip away," Shelley explained. "The time is now."
Gary Peters released the following statement on Saturday, "Michigan Dreamers are active members of our community: they attend our schools, serve in our nation’s military and work in businesses across our state. America is the only home that many of these young men and women have ever known. I have appreciated hearing firsthand from Michigan Dreamers about their stories, and I commend the strong civic engagement from Dreamers who are fearful about their future. I am proud to have voted in favor of the DREAM Act previously, and believe Congress must quickly take action to provide relief to our nation’s dreamers, an effort that has bipartisan support."
Juan Gonzalez, who said he was brought over illegally from Mexico at age one and only discovered his status after being fired on his second day as a dishwasher at age 16 because he was undocumented, has become a fixture at these protests. On Saturday, he pushed back at the rhetoric that "dreamers" are being made to pay for the actions of their parents.
"Is it a sin to want to feed your kids?" Gonzalez asked. "Is it a sin to want a better life your your kids?"
Shelley said that President Donald Trump's State of the Union address "made clear his actual intentions. It's not to stop illegal immigration, it's to stop immigration. Trump also wants to end the visa lottery. He took away protection for Dreamers, and now he's offering it back to get at legal immigration."
Trump's four part immigration plan, in addition to offering protections for an estimated 1.8 million Dreamers, also calls for the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, would end the visa system, and would end so-called chain migration, for anyone but "spouses and minor children."
"These are the legal means to come in, and he's choking them off," Shelley said Saturday. "We don't go to chain reunions, we go to family reunions."
At past Dream rallies, as is expected at Saturday's rally, supporters have pushed elected officials to pass a "clean" Dream Act, not connected to other issues, such as the budget, as Dreamers did not want to be viewed as political pawns.
One local family affected by deportation is the Garcia family of Lincoln Park. On Martin Luther Jr. Day, Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old landscaper who came to America from Mexico with his family as a 10-year-old boy, was deported to Mexico City, after years of unsuccessfully fighting for legal status.
Garcia, a father of two, annually met with immigration officials and had no criminal record, but in November learned he was set to be deported, and ultimately he was allowed to stay until mid-January.
Cindy Garcia, an hour before the rally, told The News that Jorge is living with an aunt in Mexico City.
"He's sad, he's depressed, he spends all day in a room with only a bed," Garcia said.
And he's unable to work, because he left his birth certificate behind at home. The family is trying to get Garcia the birth certificate, but may not get a chance to until April, when they plan to visit him at his new home.
A judge ordered him removed in June 2006, ICE said, but Garcia appealed his removal in 2008 to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The board sent the decision back to the lower court, “which subsequently allowed him to voluntarily depart,” spokesman Khaalid Walls said.
“After he failed to depart within the timeline of the agreement, he became subject to a final order of removal in 2009,” the statement from ICE said. “ICE exercised prosecutorial discretion on multiple prior occasions in (Garcia’s) case in 2011, 2012 and 2014.”
At Trump's State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Garcia was a guest of U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.
“We just hope that the president can see my face and see that he tore apart a family," Garcia told The News the day before Trump's speech. “We understand that (Trump) said that he was deporting criminals, rapists and drug dealers. But my husband was not one of those. We were doing everything right. We followed the law, and this is what happened.”
Saturday, Garcia said she hopes people who see the march learn to consider the human toll of the deportations on affected families. She said that while she gets the need to keep terrorists out of America, her husband was a man who worked as a landscaper to make a living.
Another family, the Rranxburgajs, have taken sanctuary at Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit, just east of Woodward. Last year, Central United declared itself a sanctuary church for immigrants facing deportation. It provided sanctuary last year to an African family seeking to remain in the country, church officials said.
Ded Rranxburgaj, 48, takes care of his wife Flora, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. When he's not working his construction job, he's tending to Flora's needs, bathing her and getting her around.
Flora is not facing deportation because of her debilitating condition but Ded reports feeling pressure immigration authorities to plan to leave since October, even buying a one-way plane ticket to Albania, as required by ICE. Prior to relocating in the church, the couple lived in Southgate, where their son Eric attends high school.