Tuesday was a hard day for DACA recipients.
Tears, hope, anger and bewilderment were all in display at a news conference in Oklahoma City and across the nation.
“My heart was crushed,” was the way one Oklahoma City young adult DACA recipient put it.
That morning, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that there would be a “wind down process” for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, resulting in an “orderly change” by March 5, 2018. On that date DACA will end.
DACA recipients are children and young adults mostly from Central America who were brought here by their parents illegally before they were old enough to even remember being anywhere else but the United States.
Until Tuesday, they could apply for a special legal status, renewable for another two-year term, allowing them to gain an education, work, and find their place in society eventually as full citizens.
The program was established by President Obama by executive order but never established by an act of Congress.
Thus, Trump now has the power to rescind Obama’s executive order.
The status of nearly about 800,000 young people in the U.S., nearly 8,000 of them in Oklahoma, was suddenly thrown into doubt.
DACA recipients speak
In Oklahoma City later in the day, a news conference at Santa Fe South Schools featured some of Oklahoma City’s children and young adults in the program.
“My heart was crushed,” Brisa Ledezma told Free Press after the news conference.
She is a DACA recipient and teacher at Santa Fe South midHigh school.
“On my lunch break, as I read more of the statement, my heart was crushed even more,” Ledezma said.
“It was cruel the way it was announced,” she said. “It was devastating how demeaning it was. I felt defeated. But then tears rolled down, and I got up and started teaching again, because that’s what I do.”
“We’ve been praying all week,” Alejandro Raigoza Munoz told Free Press. “I don’t know how to feel right now.” He’s a student at OSU-OKC.
Even though he is disheartened, he is leaning on his strong faith.
“I’m trusting in God. Christ is the king of everything,” said Munoz.
Judith Huerta works for Oklahoma City Public Schools in a number of capacities and is also a DACA recipient.
“Today I’ve just been trying to answer as many parent questions as I could as they called. I really haven’t had much time to think about what will happen to me,” Huerta told us after the news conference.
She is in her two-year extension period now, so there will be no more time for her beyond March 5 unless Congress can come up with a solution.
During the news conference her words were the most direct and pointed at the political process.
“The cruelty of this devastating announcement is felt by our communities,” she said in front of a bleacher full of DACA recipients and supporters holding signs.
A large crowd of people, reporters and news photographers were on hand for the event.
“Elected officials need to know that we need more than friendly tweets and photo-ops,” Huerta said. “We need policies to protect immigrant youth and families at every level of our government.”
Her sharpest words were saved for last.
“We refuse to be used as bargaining chips to pass hateful, xenophobic immigration policies.”
The news conference was organized by El Camino, an organization that describes itself as “a network of Christians and churches in the OKC metro committed to loving immigrants and responding to our immigration crisis in a way that displays the justice and compassion of Jesus.”
“We see you,” said Christ Community Church pastor John-Mark Hart. The church is located on SW 25th Street in the Calle dos Cinco/Historic Capitol Hill district.
Gloria Torres is a native of the Capitol Hill area and Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education Vice Chair.
Fighting back tears, she spoke of the fears and struggles of the DACA recipients who were brought here by parents who were desperate to get a better life for their children.
She pointed out that DACA recipients are the least risky sub-group of immigrants because of the requirements of the program:
- No criminal background of a felony or serious misdemeanor
- They must have been brought to the U.S. under the age of 18
- Are current K-12 students
- Have graduated from HS/GED
- Or, have been honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or armed forces of the United States.
Chris Brewster, pastor of The Well church and founding principal of Santa Fe South Mid and High schools, knows a significant number of DACA recipients from his church work and/or his school work.
“This president has decided that it is in his best interest to attempt to force Congress to do what they should have already done by way of repairing our deeply fractured immigration system,” said Brewster. “This is a dangerous game he is playing.”
He called on Congress to take up the issue and “craft a permanent, compassionate and complete solution” for DACA recipients.
“We will stand with those who are innocent among us who deserve the chance to live in freedom in the greatest nation on earth,” said Brewster.