Mount students organize to save DACA

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Students, faculty and staff at the College of Mount Saint Vincent are taking a stand against Donald Trump.

A candlelight rally at the campus last week protested the president’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — typically referred to as DACA — which grants work permits and other government services to select immigrants who arrived in the United States with their undocumented parents before their 16th birthday.

The small crowd prayed, sang songs and lit candles to show their support. They also heard from Diana Sanchez, a DACA participant, who shared her experiences living as an undocumented resident.

Sanchez’s voice shook with emotion, holding back tears, as she addressed attendees, calling on DACA “allies” and those who are citizens to do even more to help a population of people who cannot challenge the decision alone. She is the co-founder of the Yonkers Sanctuary Movement, which works to protect fellow undocumented people.

“I know a lot of DACA recipients are very scared and are probably hiding more than ever, and they are probably stressed to the max,” said Sanchez, who encouraged fellow DACA enrollees to reach out to organizations like hers or contact clergy and build relationships with people or groups who are supportive.

“The more people you can connect with, the more people that can fight for you.”

Sanchez came to the United States from Mexico when she was 4 years old, Now in her 30s, Sanchez said the issue was not just about DACA, but the nation’s immigration policy as a whole, which “criminalizes” parents like hers for trying to get a better lives for their children.

“It’s hard when I get to hear people tell me we deserve to stay here because they’ve been raised here,” Sanchez said. “It bothers me because my parents were the first Dreamers who came to this country. They had the same dream that maybe I now have.”

“Dreamers” is a term used to describe immigrants who would’ve been covered under 2001’s DREAM Act, if it had passed Congress.

Sanchez had a message for DACA supporters: “It’s time for you to do more.”

“Allies,” she said, could create safe spaces for undocumented people to speak out, have attorneys consult with students, or create a fund to help participants pay the $600 fee to file the application, which for many can be a financial hardship.

“At this point, I think everyone has realized that this is not the country we all thought it once was, and that it’s (our) responsibility to protect people that can’t stand up for themselves,” Sanchez said.

Brother Christian Seno, a Franciscan friar who volunteers with The Mount’s campus ministry, said it was important students from such diverse backgrounds express solidarity. Calling Trump’s decision “a major tragedy” and “creating an unhealthy environment of fear and anxiety,” Seno made clear the rally was for “people of all faiths, who are concerned about human rights.”

The Mount, according to Seno, has a large immigrant population, which would likely be impacted by Trump’s plan.

After the rally, Seno and fellow supporters distributed an information sheet detailing facts people should know about DACA as well as a short telephone script for supporters when contacting congressional leaders, urging them to support the DREAM Act of 2017. That bill — introduced over the summer by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Richard Durbin — provides a path to citizenship for DACA participants and undocumented residents who entered the United States as minors.

“I want all of our students and faculty to know that the college, as a whole, supports them, and to find those ways to have both our voice heard, but also to learn,” said Sarah Stevenson, The Mount’s provost and dean of faculty. “The vigil is a starting point, and not the end of itself.”

The vigil also brought out undergraduates like senior Coleen Hening, who wanted to learn more about DACA and how to help.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of this situation, and I wanted to come and show support,” Hening said. She said did not personally know of any DACA students on campus, but she heard “friends of friends” might be enrolled in the program.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of DACA protections on behalf of Trump on Sept. 5. He called on Congress to address children of undocumented immigrants before protections run out next spring.

The Department of Homeland Security will no longer accept new applicants for DACA, which granted work permits to enrollees. Current permit holders could work in the country until their two-year permits expire. Those with permits expiring by March 5 could seek renewals if done by Oct. 5.

Former President Barack Obama created DACA through an executive order in 2012.

For Sanchez, what happens next comes down to those who are in the country legally taking peaceful action for those not as fortunate.

“You have to stand up,” she said. “You can’t just sit down and watch everyone get terrorized and get pointed out. If you don’t get up and you don’t react, then you are part of that crew, too. You are part of that group that is terrorizing.”

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