Supporters of DACA rallied Tuesday across Metro Detroit, vowing to push for the program’s continuation despite a decision by the Trump administration to phase it out.
DACA recipients, many of whom have jobs and hope to attend college, expressed worry about what could happen to them if Congress doesn’t extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects young undocumented immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” from being deported.
In Detroit, about 150 people gathered outside Western International High School after the first day of classes, chanting, “Money for jobs and education, not for jails and deportation.”
Juan Gonzalez, 24, a senior at Western who was brought here from Mexico when he was a year old, plans to attend Wayne State University next year but fears that everything he has worked for will be taken from him.
“I have a full-time job, I go to school, I support my family, bought a car, a house and I could lose all of that in a few months,” he said during the rally. “I’d be separated from my family and everyone knows that family is everything. If you lose that, what do you have?”
Another DACA recipient, Julia Aldaba, 22, was brought from Mexico by her parents when she was 6. She wants to start her own real estate business and a women’s empowerment group but wonders if she should pursue those plans after Tuesday’s White House announcement.
“It’s not just about tweeting and Snapchatting, we need to take action and more action,” she said. “I can’t continue investing in here and myself if the government wants me to leave.”
Alexis Wiley, Mayor Mike Duggan’s chief of staff, spoke on Duggan’s behalf at the rally.
“We have one and only one clear message: You are Detroit, we are Detroit,” Wiley said. “We deserve certainty that our community will be protected. We stand united and ask Congress to take action.”
Therese Yglesias, a Western alum who teaches at Convenant House Academy in southwest Detroit, said the community must fight to protect DACA recipients.
“I teach Dreamers,” Yglesias said. “We had two students deported this summer and I’m sick of this. It’s heartbreaking.”
Around lunchtime, about 135 people gathered outside the Troy office of U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, calling on him to support keeping DACA.
Bartosz Kumor, who came to the United States when he was 10 from Poland, said he’s come to realize after working hard, graduating from college and paying his taxes that “the immigration system that we have is still set up to keep me out and it’s still set up to keep out 11 million other people.”
President Donald Trump’s administration announced Tuesday that DACA, established by former President Barack Obama, will end in six months unless Congress extends the program.
“It’s not fair they have to worry today,” said the Rev. Paul Perez, director of the Office of Justice and Mission, Detroit Conference, of the United Methodist Church. “It’s not right their eyes are filled with tears.”
Paul added that Trump’s actions are “morally wrong” and have turned the Dreamers’ American Dream into an “American nightmare.”
Trott, in a statement, criticized Obama’s executive order establishing DACA while calling for congressional action.
“The Obama Administration’s DACA program was an abuse of executive power – a unilateral unconstitutional order. I believe substantive immigration reform must go through the proper legislative process. It is Congress’ responsibility to create a permanent, level-headed legislative solution, one that provides certainty and helps fix America’s broken immigration system.”
Others at the rally, such as Adonis Flores, expressed outrage at Trump’s decision.
“People who made this decision are cowards,” Flores said.
“Once again since the election, our communities are under attack. immigrant communities, people of color, we are under attack ... at first it was the Muslim ban and now the repeal of DACA,” said Flores, a DACA recipient. “DACA has been widely supported by both parties, Republicans and Democrats.”
Republican activist Rocky Raczkowski said he thinks Trott and Congress “will stand up and do something about this.”
Nearly 800,000 people are protected from deportation under DACA. Michigan had just over 10,000 residents in the program as of June 2016, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In a statement Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan accused the Trump administration of breaking faith with undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
“While this is a hard day for our immigrant communities, our fight is not over,” ACLU of Michigan director Kary Moss said. “Years of courage, sacrifices, and organizing won the DACA program in 2012 and that same resolve and determination will win again.”
Wayne State University also spoke out against Trump’s decision.
“Our decision to support the continuation of DACA is entirely consistent with our commitment to being a welcoming and inclusive community where people from all backgrounds can learn and grow together,” WSU President M. Roy Wilson said in a statement.
Tuesday’s rally in Troy was organized by the Michigan United civil rights organization.
Alondra Martinez, a 21-year-old student Pontiac resident, came to the United States from Mexico when she was 7. “My home is in the United States,” she said.
Martinez, who was among the speakers at the Troy rally, said if she is sent back to Mexico through the repeal of DACA she would be “going back to a country I don’t know.”
“I don’t know what would happen,” she said. “I have no idea what awaits me over there.”
Melissa Nann Burke contributed.