Advocates, lawmakers rally to protect DACA recipients

Maricruz Abarca, a DACA recipient, spoke at a demonstration on Wednesday. Photo by Debbie Truong

After Maricruz Abarca’s mother brought her into the United States illegally as a teenager, Abarca began building a life.

She’s now a mother and business owner in Baltimore, she recalled during a Wednesday demonstration organized by immigrant rights advocates in the shadow of the Capitol. But the life she’s settled into was upended in September after President Donald Trump reversed Obama-era provisions that insulated from deportation people who, like her, were brought to the country illegally as minors.

She’s now torn by worry for the future of her three children if she’s deported.

“Do you know how hard it is,” she said, breaking down into tears.

The greatest number of DACA recipients come from Mexico, according to Pew Research.

If Congress doesn’t pass legislation, some of the 800,000 undocumented immigrants protected under DACA could face deportation once the program expires in March, according to media reports. In a statement, Trump criticized the executive action Obama took to extend federal benefits to undocumented immigrants and said that decision should rest in the hands of lawmakers.

“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents.  But we must also recognize that we are a nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws,” Trump said in the statement. “There can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will.”

Trump’s rollback galvanized many undocumented immigrants and advocates, prompting a series of protests and demonstrations this fall. Supporters of DACA beneficiaries were brought to the country as young children and know no country but the United States.

On Wednesday, as they have before, supporters called on Congress to pass a “clean” Dream Act or legislation that doesn’t tie citizenship to increased immigration security measures, such as funding for a border wall or more detention centers.

And, on Wednesday, as they have before, protestors demanded dignity. They chanted, clutched banners and chanted “No justice, no peace” and “Undocumented, unafraid.”

Ericka Lopez de Ramos, who spoke on behalf of Working Families United, a coalition of union workers, said many undocumented immigrants work thankless service jobs in restaurants, laundromats and as bricklayers. Ramos demanded a life with “dignity and respect.”

“We are here,” she said. “We represent hard workers.”

“It’s un-American and absolutely indefensible.”

Democratic lawmakers have joined in the call for a pathway to citizenship. At a November news conference, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), said all Democrats in Congress support Dream Act legislation. She promised to shield DACA recipients from deportation.

“We will pass the legislation to protect you. Americans know that it should not be in the position of deporting young people and tearing families apart,” Chu said. “It’s un-American and absolutely indefensible.” 

At the Wednesday demonstration, Kamala Harris, a Democratic senator from California, noted GOP senators introduced legislation that would protect DACA recipients from deportation. The small victory, she said, should be celebrated.

But she again underscored the urgency of the matter.

“This is an emergency,” she said. “And we cannot wait.”

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