Hundreds fill Civic Plaza in support of undocumented students, DACA policy following announcement it would be “rescinded”

By David Lynch

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Now faced with the very real possibility that some of their friends, family or even themselves will lose some of the benefits they were granted under the DACA policy, hundreds flocked to Civic Plaza in downtown Albuquerque Tuesday afternoon in a show of solidarity.

Supporters of all ages and demographics – from UNM professors to high school students to retired citizens – were on hand for the rally, organized by the New Mexico Dream Team. It followed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ official announcement that the Donald Trump administration was going to rescind DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, affecting nearly 800,000 children and young adults across the country who were brought to the U.S. by their parents at a young age.

That announcement was made hours before the rally, but members of the NM Dream Team said planning started long before that.

“Two or three weeks ago,” said rally organizer Manuel Delarosa. “Whether or not DACA was rescinded, we were all going to continue to fight, regardless of the situation, and stand up for our immigrants.”

Delarosa added he was surprised at the turnout at the day’s events, which included walkouts at nearly two dozen Albuquerque metro high schools, and a rally at UNM where he said “it looked like it was the school there (participating).”

There are almost 7,000 New Mexicans in the DACA program, according to the ACLU.

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Many of the speakers at Civic Plaza addressed the crowd in Spanish, amid chants of “Immigrants are here to stay” and “Trump, escucha, estamos en la lucha,” (Translation: “Trump, listen up, we’re here to fight.”) that reverberated through dozens of energetic local high school students.

Others in the crowd held signs with messages such as “Dreaming is American” and “DACA Kids Are Our Kids.”

One of the rally’s speakers said she had been “preparing for this day since Nov. 9.”

The reasoning behind the decision

Soon after Sessions’ announcement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke to media in Washington, D.C. about Trump’s decision, one she said he “wrestled” over.

Sanders said Trump “took the responsible and constitutional step” when he announced “the administration would be phasing out the DACA program over the next two years.”

The alternative, Sanders said, would have been “an immediate shutdown” of the program by federal courts. Instead, the president is now handing the baton to Congress, to accomplish what Sanders said should have been done when Barack Obama was still in office.

“There were two, and only two, real options to choose from,” she said from the White House Press Briefing Room.

She added that Obama bypassed federal law by announcing the DACA program, which has allowed thousands of young, undocumented individuals to get jobs and apply for college.

The program does not, however, provide a route to citizenship in its current form.

Sanders also battled against rhetoric that the announcement puts a target on the wrong people, saying the decision is the responsible course of action.

Current DACA recipients will not lose their status immediately, but the announcement means no new applicants for the program will be accepted. Sanders said the decision answers a call by U.S. citizens for the government to do more to protect their jobs and secure their borders.

‘These are just kids’

Still, some are confused about the logic behind the announcement that DACA would be phased out.

While the first reports that Trump was planning to roll back DACA emerged over the weekend, some supporters at the rally said they were perplexed that those who had no say in having come to the U.S. were being targeted.

“These are just kids,” said Deborah Marez-Baca. “They were babies, they were just children…have some compassion.”

Marez-Baca said while the news is dire for some, it’s an opportunity for their community to show they are not alone. She said even if someone isn’t affected by the decision, they can’t afford to stay apathetic.

“Everybody has to do what they’re comfortable with and what’s in their heart, but you can’t sit silent anymore,” she said. “We’re past that.”

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Clement Jose, one of a group of UNM medical students that were at the rally, said some of his closest friends are undocumented immigrants, and that they were on his mind as he listened to the speakers.

“One of the things we really focus on (in medical school) is having empathy, and removing DACA literally goes against everything we believe in,” Jose said.

Mayoral candidate Gus Pedrotty was also downtown, and he said while the news is unfortunate, it isn’t completely unexpected.

“When news like this comes, it’s always heartbreaking, but the heartbreak feels different now because its unsurprising. We’re so lucky here to get to have communities that can show us how to support them, and to show us who they are and how needed they are,” Pedrotty said.

Support from educators

Support for undocumented students from the University of New Mexico goes all the way up to its administrators. This week, UNM President Chaouki Abdallah – serving in the interim as the process of finding a new president churns on – sent a letter to students and staff affirming the university’s support.

The letter states that administration has established an “Undocu-Task Force to determine long-term support and resources.”

“Our undocumented students and their families have demonstrated courage and resilience in the face of tremendous adversity,” Abdallah states in the letter. “You belong here. At UNM, we value each and every one of our students because each of us defines all of us.”

The Associated Students of UNM – the undergraduate student governing body – also passed a resolution last week supporting undocumented students and calling for the university to extend in-state tuition and the lottery scholarship to those students, so long as they fulfill the necessary requirements.

Jesus Costantino, an English professor at UNM, said he was at the rally in support of his students who have come out as undocumented.

“Just to confront that reality, I’m sure, would take far more than most people are capable of to stay positive,” he said.

Kelli Lycke, a teacher’s assistant at UNM, has only been in Albuquerque for six weeks, but says she has already noticed the community’s propensity to come together for its various denizens.

That diversity was on display on a small scale Tuesday evening.

“As a new transplant to this city, I am continually amazed at its pride and diversity,” she said. “There’s a unity in the culture of Albuquerque which makes it so enchanting.”

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Next steps

Going forward, Delarosa said priority for the NM Dream Team is putting pressure on a Congress that has a loaded agenda in the short-term, including approving aid for those affected by Harvey and health care reform.

“We want to push for something bigger, maybe in the future for residency, and then, of course, from there, for citizenship,” Delarosa said.

Otherwise, if a majority of DACA students and adults find themselves forced to go back to a country many have never been to since they were babies, he said the country as a whole loses out.

“Not just them, but (it affects) everybody,” Delarosa said. “This doesn’t just benefit us to work (and) to study. It benefits the country.”

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