Hundreds of Madison high school and college students marched in record-cold temperatures to the state Capitol building in downtown Madison Tuesday – joining dozens of student walkouts and marches in major cities across the United States – to send a message to the United States Supreme Court to vote in favor of protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
“I am a proud immigrant to this country as I stand alongside 45 million immigrants nationally, and close to 300,000 who call Wisconsin their home,” Karen Menendez Coller, the executive director of Centro Hispano of Dane County, told the crowd.
“I’m eager and ready to see a time in Madison when every single person will speak up for the rights of our community and when we will be unapologetic and unafraid to be recognized for who we are – our histories, our struggles, our joys, our recognition,” she added. “I am hopeful and optimistic.”
Many of the students attending the rally marched for miles in the freezing cold weather from Madison West and East High schools. Starting with a rally outside, the crowd made its way indoors holding signs and yelling chants like “Si, se puede!” “Down, down with deportations!” “Ho ho, hey hey, immigrants are here to stay!” “Move, Trump, get out of the way!”
“Immigration is a beautiful gift to our nation. Our country was built by immigrants. We are a melting pot and its vital that we see that we are stronger when we are together,” State Rep. Melissa Sargent told the crowd. “Each of us comes from a different place on this earth to bring ourselves to a place where our families and our dreams can be stronger and that is why we are here today.”
The hearing before the Supreme Court will be determining the future of some 680,000 beneficiaries of DACA and DREAMERS. It will test whether it was properly enacted and whether Trump has the authority to end a program that has been a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of immigrants across the country. There are nearly 8,000 DREAMERS in Wisconsin alone.
“It seems that every year, again and again, this administration is unnecessarily putting stress and anxiety and worry into the DACA community. Our lives have been nothing but political footballs and it’s been favors exchanged for favors,” Shabnam Lotfi, an immigration attorney in Madison, told the crowd. “But the irony is that’s not what this country stands for. We have always been proud of ourselves for standing for equality, of not having second-class citizens, of equal protection for all. And yet, this administration wants to rip that status away from hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients.”
She added that “looking at the crowd at the Capitol today, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
DACA was established by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and allowed teens older than 16 and adults younger than 30 who were brought to the United States when they were children to work and study without fear of deportation.
“What we should be talking about is a path to citizenship; not going backward,” Lotfi said. “DACA is a program that has brought hope to thousands and thousands of young people who came to the United States at a young age, lived dual identities, strived to find belonging and are American in every way except on paper.
“Young people who stayed in school, stayed out of trouble, saved up money to pay the filing fees, showed up in court … they put their trust in the American government,” she added. “They finally had the ability to drive, come out of the shadows, be employed, feel slightly more secure – and this administration wants to take that away. It makes no sense. An overwhelming amount of American people support DACA.”
Sargent stressed the importance of voting.
“Every child has the right and the ability to go to school and dream about their future,” Sargent says. “It’s really unfortunate that we have a president and that we have lawmakers who are deaf to your voices. But, guess what? You have power. You have power that they cannot take away from you. What you need to do is to register to vote and make sure you vote in every election.”