McALLEN — While clutching her 11-month-old baby boy in one arm and a protest sign in the other, Kathia Ramirez stood outside the office of the Texas Attorney General yesterday to boldly express her support of a federal program that’s designed to help her and others like her.
Ramirez, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program since 2012, was outside the AG’s office in McAllen to voice her displeasure over Tuesday’s decision to end DACA.
A month removed from being renewed for a third time, the program shielded Ramirez and nearly 800,000 undocumented people across the nation from deportation.
“I feel like everyone who has DACA should make it a point to go out to the streets and show that we matter — that we’re not in the shadows anymore,” the 24-year-old mother of two said moments before U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday morning that DACA would be rescinded.
The mood outside the AG’s office in McAllen leading up to Sessions’ announcement on the program — which provides protection from deportation for 125,000 Texans of the aforementioned 800,000 — was lively and optimistic, with protesters shouting slogans of unity and defiance.
“Ganaremos esta lucha cueste lo que cueste! Ganaremos esta lucha de este a oeste!” protesters chanted in Spanish, “We will win this fight no matter the cost. We will win this fight from east to west.”
The energy quickly shifted to sadness and anger as Sessions delivered a clear message that not everyone who aspired to live in the United States could live in the United States.
“I am here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama Administration is being rescinded,” Sessions said without President Donald Trump by his side.
“To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. That is an open border policy and the American people have rightly rejected it. Therefore, the nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we admit each year and that means all cannot be accepted.”
The decision to scrap the program will also leave the nearly 1 million DACA recipients potentially more vulnerable after having already voluntarily provided their personal information as a program prerequisite.
According to a White House statement, the announcement Tuesday will not impact current DACA recipients until after March 15, 2018, six months from now. No new DACA initial applications will be accepted beginning Tuesday, but current DACA permits are still valid until they expire.
For recent college graduate Abraham Diaz, the notion of potentially returning to an undocumented status takes him back to his pre-college years, when the uncertainty of his future weighed on his entire family.
Diaz, 24, first successfully applied for the permit in 2012 and is due for a third renewal by the end of this year, which he will be able to apply for under the current terms. But even if he receives another two-year permit, it is his long-term status that is of concern.
“When I graduated high school there was no DACA, it wasn’t announced yet,” he recalled. “There was just so much uncertainty of whether I would go to college, whether I would be able to find a job, whether I would be able to even pay for college. Now it’s that same feeling but now I’ve already felt the privilege of being able to join the workforce, being able to go to school, to file my taxes and contribute to my family.”
Diaz’s goal is to continue working to pay his way through a master’s and even a doctorate degree and one day become a history professor. Although it’s part of his plan, he doesn’t know if he could find a decent-paying job without the permit that allowed him to become the education specialist for La Union del Pueblo Entero — or LUPE — a local immigrant advocacy organization.
John-Michael Torres, a spokesman for LUPE, said they chose the AG’s office for their protest since it was Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who threatened to sue the Trump administration if it didn’t end the program.
“Paxton is picking this fight with the federal government, picking this fight with our families — there is no grounds for his threat, no grounds for taking away DACA, the threats he’s making are against immigrant families and against the changing face of this nation,” Torres said.
Despite the decision, Torres said most DACA recipients he’s spoken to are determined to make their voices heard again.
“…We have to take action now, we have to get involved in this now, push for something bigger, something more permanent,” Torres said. “We’re not going to go back into the shadows. We’re not going to go back to living in fear; we’ve already come this far and we won’t let ourselves be pushed back.”
U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, released statements earlier Tuesday in response to Session’s announcement.
Vela didn’t mince words in his initial reaction, which was in line with past criticism with regard to the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
“Within a few days after Donald Trump expressed glimpses of humanity with Hurricane Harvey victims, the dark side of his soul once again overshadows all else,” Vela said in the statement. “In April, President Trump assured dreamers that they should ‘rest easy’ and not fear deportation. However, today while heeding the advice of his three evil tutors — Sessions, (Stephen) Miller and (Steve) Bannon — the president has chosen to follow the dictates of the radical racist wing in his administration and to rescind DACA.”
Cuellar spoke of the economic contributions the state’s recipients have made to Texas.
“Ending this program, as the Trump administration has announced today, is not only a failure on humanitarian grounds, but also economically,” Cuellar said in his statement. “I will continue to fight to keep families together and to keep our American values strong while opposing the building of walls. We need a bipartisan comprehensive immigration approach to solve the challenges at our border and ensure that DREAMers have a place in the nation that they love. I call on my colleagues in Congress to act now and to stand up to protect families and the rights of everyone in our country.”
In June, Paxton and representatives from nine other states addressed a letter to Sessions, urging the program’s end.
In a prepared statement on Tuesday, Paxton hailed the decision.
“I applaud President Trump for phasing out DACA,” Paxton said. “Had former President Obama’s unilateral order on DACA been left intact, it would have set a dangerous precedent by giving the executive branch sweeping authority to bypass Congress and change immigration laws.”
Despite the news, which she characterized as “hate-filled,” Stephanie Alvarez, a longtime University of Texas Rio Grande Valley professor, expressed optimism that Congress may continue providing a path for DREAMers.
“My hope is that … Congress will mobilize and move to do something for these amazing DREAMers; they have been some of my best students at the university,” Alvarez said at the protest. “… There’s something in our DREAMers that just pushes them to a level that’s extraordinary, and I’m willing to fight for them — everyone should be.”
firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a kind of administrative relief from deportation.
The purpose of DACA is to protect eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States when they were children from
DACA gives young undocumented immigrants: 1, protection from deportation, and 2, a work permit.
The program expires after two years, subject to renewal.