CEDAR RAPIDS — Waving signs, chanting and marching through downtown Cedar Rapids, more than 70 people turned out Wednesday to support immigrants afraid to speak out about the upcoming end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
The program that allows 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants, brought here as children, to live, work and go to school legally in the United States is slated to end March 5. Members of Congress are working on possible solutions, but the fate of DACA recipients has become a political hot button.
“These DREAMERS are Americans in every single way but one: On paper,” Fatima Elsheikh, Coe College student government president, said about DACA recipients. “These young people’s lives are now in limbo.”
Ryan Oppegard, 23, a Coe College senior, planned the march from the campus library to the Linn County Courthouse to raise awareness about the looming DACA expiration.
“My intent was to combat the rhetoric coming out of the administration at the White House and stand in solidarity with people whose issues have been politicized,” he said.
Oppegard said he invited some Iowa DACA recipients to the march, but one couldn’t come and others are afraid to speak out about the end of the program for fear their legal status will be revoked early. In September, President Donald Trump said DACA would be phased out by letting the two-year protections and work permits expire unless Congress comes up with a solution for this group of immigrants.
Oppegard read comments from Karina Aguilar Gurrero, a DREAMER born in Mexico who has lived in California since she was three years old. Now a Princeton University student, Aguilar Gurrero talked with Oppegard by phone.
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“This young, brave woman, decided to take a stand and speak out against this injustice,” Oppegard said. “She decided to speak out even though she isn’t sure about her future here in America. She does not know if she’ll be able to graduate in 2020 because her DACA protection expires before that date.”
Marchers carried signs with phrases including “Honor our DACA promise — now,” “We want what Melania has,” and “Protege y lucha por DACA,” which, in English, means protect and fight for DACA. The chant, as the line of Coe students, faculty and community members sloshed through puddles on the warm February afternoon, was “Don’t stop the American dream. Education not deportation.”
Sezar Carrillo, 21, a Coe junior studying to be a Spanish language teacher, was born in Chicago to parents who immigrated from Mexico. His parents have been legal residents for many years and Carrillo’s grandfather now is going through the process to become a citizen, he said.
“I definitely think DACA is the first step toward getting reform for immigration,” Carrillo said. “When 60 people show up (for the march) it shows how much the community supports DACA recipients. We believe you have the right to come here for a better life.”
Although Coe students don’t have to declare their DACA status, faculty know there are DREAMERS on campus. For the first time, next year Coe will offer a four-year, full-ride scholarship to a self-declared DACA recipient, said John Chaimov, a Coe professor who teaches in International Studies and who is on the scholarship selection committee.
“These students can’t qualify for federal financial aid,” Chaimov said. Although DREAMERS who have applied for the scholarship are anxious about the future of the DACA program “everybody is going into it with as much optimism as possible.”
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