"Undocumented!" a young woman yelled through the megaphone. "And unafraid!" answered the students — some looking fierce, some desperate — assembled in front of her.
Angelica, the chant leader who withheld her full name, drove down to the Springs, her home town, for the rally on Tuesday after participating in a massive walk-out in Denver earlier that day. "We're fighting for our futures here," she explained, which for her means continuing her education at Metro State University.
"But it's not our parents' fault. They did what they needed to do for us. ... This is about our families and communities, too."
Hundreds showed up for the emergency rally to protest the Trump administration's decision to rescind DACA, short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which is an Obama-era program that lets undocumented immigrants brought here as children or teens before mid-2007 apply for protection from deportation, and a two-year work/study permit.
(There are other criteria too. Beneficiaries had to: be under 16 upon entering the country; be no older than 31 as of June 15, 2012; have not left the U.S. since mid-2007; be enrolled in high school or college, already have a diploma, degree or GED certificate or be an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. military; and have no criminal record.)
The program was put in place by President Obama in 2012, after years of pressure from activists and failure by Congress to address this particular population's immigration status. Its opponents, including 10 attorneys general, argue that DACA is an overreach — that the executive branch improperly bypassed the legislative branch to change immigration law.
But the Obama administration has always characterized the order as an exercise of prosecutorial discretion — a legal principle for prioritizing the enforcement of a law when resources are limited. In this case, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) admits it's not currently capable of deporting all 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. So, DACA was the former President's way of telling ICE agents to leave these youth alone.
After an agonizing "will he or wont he?" period with the threat of a state-led lawsuit looming, President Trump, an immigration hawk, announced by written statement that DHS would no longer accept applications or renewals. No current beneficiaries will lose protection until March 5, according to a DHS factsheet
, and beneficiaries whose protection will expire between now and then have until Oct. 5 to apply for renewal.
The six-month grace period gives Congress time to act
. If they don't, 800,000 DACA recipients could become vulnerable to deportation.
It was an emotional afternoon in Acacia Park, where Dreamers, as the DACAmented youth are called, their families, friends, teachers and supporters rallied for the opportunity to stay and keep pursuing their ambitions in America.
Several students spoke, as did Harrison High School teacher Luis Antezana, City Councilor Yolanda Avila, Congressional candidate Stephany Rose and Gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston. After their speeches, rally-goers marched down Tejon Street to Senator Cory Gardner's office. At around the same time, the Republican Senator announced he'll join Democratic Senator
Michael Bennet in supporting the DREAM Act
— long-standing federal legislation that would shield Dreamers from deportation and forge a pathway to citizenship.
President Trump has already insisted that funding for his border wall be tied to this legislation, setting the stage for some difficult negotiations down the line
But the local immigrants, attorneys and activists who came out yesterday made clear that the fight — not just for Dreamers, but for the whole undocumented community — is one they won't give up.