With DACA on the Chopping Block, Hundreds Descend on Central Park to Defend Immigrants


A double-decker bus full of confused tourists circled Central Park. In between the usual sightseeing stops, the riders were treated to a new attraction not mentioned in the guidebooks: a political protest. Noticing their stares, one protester shouted, "Get off the bus and join us! Support DACA!"

Cesar Vargas grinned. As New York's first openly undocumented attorney, he's traveled all over the U.S. fighting for immigration reform for his organization, the Dream Action Coalition, and for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. Wednesday evening found him back in his home city of New York at a rally and protest next to Central Park, fighting to preserve Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program shielding children of undocumented immigrants from deportation and allowing them to work and attend school. 

Flanked by a gold-plated statue of Christopher Columbus and a chorus of hundreds chanting "here to stay" and "immigrants are welcome here," he explained why the fight is personal for him. "I could lose my driver's license, my work permit, and possibly my law license; I could lose my ability to practice law." Still, he remained unbowed: "With or without my license, with or without DACA, we are here to stay. This is our home, and we are going to continue to fight... That's why we're here."

Monica Robles, who works for Make the Road New York, came to support her colleagues. "A lot of my coworkers and the volunteers I work with are DACA-mented." They're all facing massive uncertainty, over whether or not Donald Trump ends the program, and what happens if he does. "We don't know what he's going to do," she explained. "We're definitely going to push back, because whatever he's going to do is probably not going to be [fully] legal... It could be [that] their visas expire and they don't get renewed; it could be that they can work for the rest of their visa, and then he revokes it... we don't know." Either way, "they are risking their work permits, and they are risking deportation." 

There was also a noticeable contingent of teachers at the protest. One of two, who wished to remain anonymous, explained she was there to support her students, who, "after Trump was elected, were on the playground talking about who would be deported first."

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(Photo: Ilana Novick)

Her colleague elaborated: "Our administration wants to take away the best that we have here... Students are doing all that they can do to make their parents proud, to make a life for themselves." She's concerned that Trump will be able to get away with ending DACA because of a lack of knowledge: "There's not enough education around the subject... First step for us as teachers is to talk about it."  

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(Photo: Ilana Novick)

They may not have much time. Fox News reported Thursday that Trump plans to end the program, which has protected nearly 800,000 Americans. He's doing so under pressure from 10 state attorneys general, led by Texas' Ken Paxton, who wrote a letter to the Department of Justice suggesting they'll sue the Trump administration if he doesn't end the program by September 5. 

In 2012, President Obama had initially planned to pass the DREAM Act, legislation meant to give children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Versions of the bill have been floated since 2001, and with the legislation stalled over a decade later, Obama created DACA instead. While it doesn't provide a path to citizenship, it does offer protection from deportation and a two-year work permit. Once that permit runs out, recipients are eligible to renew it. 

It remains to be seen what the immediate consequences are of ending DACA. It wouldn't, as Dara Lind explains in Vox, necessarily mean immediate deportation. The consequences, she continues, would vary from recipient to recipient: 

Immigrants working full-time jobs would have to leave them to comply with the law, or continue working at legal risk to themselves and their employers. Immigrants in school would be able to remain enrolled, in nearly all cases, but some might have trouble retaining their financial aid for the rest of their educations (in addition to not knowing what jobs they could get in the US with the degrees they’re working to obtain).

Either way, the uncertainty is putting hundreds of thousands of Americans in immigration purgatory. 

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