Cities across the country came together Dec. 6 for a National DACA Day of Action, hoping to send a strong message to Congress that the immigration system is broken, and action is needed now. At Madison’s Centro Hispano of Dane County, area DACA recipients held a press conference to speak about their experiences as childhood arrivals to the U.S. and to call on community members to reach out to their local representatives about the importance of maintaining DACA.
Erika Gonzalez, who currently works at UW-Madison and is a graduate of UW-Milwaukee, told the people gathered for the press conference that she has been in the U.S. since she was 12 years old.
“If it wasn’t for DACA, I know I wouldn’t be here. DACA has given me those wings that I so dearly wanted. It has been extremely tough being in fear for the majority of our lives since we’ve arrived here,” she said. “That fear becomes part of you, unfortunately. I’ve been traumatized. Going from home to work and having a police officer behind me … it’s terrifying to be simply driving.”
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has provided a pathway for approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrant youth – referred to as DREAMers after the DREAM Act bill – to achieve their dreams. DACA has allowed individuals who entered the country as minors, and had either entered or remained in the country illegally, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit.
Those dreams are now on the line.
DACA recipient Alondra Quechol stood in front of Centro Hispano staff and community leaders to tell a bit about her story. She was very emotional during her talk and feared that the termination of DACA could negatively impact her family’s future.
“Without these people behind me, I couldn’t be where I am today. Not only are they my co-workers but they have been my second family since day one,” Quechol said. “Without them, I would be lost. I wouldn’t be the professional person I am developing into.
“It hasn’t been an easy ride for me and I understand that America needs a better immigration system, but targeting 800,000 youth, such as myself, is not the answer,” she continued. “We were brought here for a purpose; back at home, things are not so great. We are not taking the jobs here, we are filling them. Many have that wrong.”
Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes, a former board of directors president at Centro Hispano, said that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin was in Washington D.C. to push for immigration reform.
“Today, we continue to stand as a community for our young Dreamers. America is a nation of values founded on the idea that all men and women are created equal no matter what they look like, where they come from. How we treat new immigrants reflects our commitment to American values,” Reyes said. “We believe that families should stick together and that hard work should be rewarded.”
That is why we need to create a common-sense immigration process, Reyes continued, and a roadmap to citizenship.
“Local leaders from different backgrounds agree that policies protecting innocent immigrants from mass detention and deportation from federal immigration agents keep our community safe and stable allowing us to continue everyday lives without families being broken up and law-abiding people from being sent away,” Reyes told the crowd. “Our communities are safe when local police focus their attention on serious criminals, not immigration status. We urge Congress to support the DREAM Act of 2017.”
In March of 2018, almost 1,000 people a day could begin to lose their protected status as their DACA program permits expire two-years later. President Donald Trump has left it to Congress to figure out what to do with the nearly 700,000 dreamers who are able to legally live and work in the United States under DACA.
“At Centro, we have several pillars for the work that we do. We believe in our youth because they are our future. We value strong Latino adults and families and we choose to engage the clients that we serve and the work that we do,” said Karen Menendez Coller, executive director at Centro Hispano.
“We here at Centro and in this community are here today to make a statement,” she continued. “In a state where we have too many jobs and not enough people and in a state that could benefit from innovation across diverse perspectives, where we value openness and community, why not prioritize and support our Latino neighbors that nationally have been put aside and made to feel so incredibly inferior at this time in our history? I urge you to stand and support our DREAMers … now more than ever.”