With uncertain future, DACA recipients speak out at demonstration

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Ana Garcia was at work when she heard the news last Tuesday that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was coming to an end.

Garcia was upset but not surprised. The moment President Donald Trump was elected in November, she began to worry that DACA — the program that gave her the ability to apply for a job, get a driver’s license and ease the constant fear of deportation — would be rescinded.

"It was just a matter of time before it honestly happened," Garcia said.

Garcia was one of about 200 people gathered with signs and flags for the Defend DACA demonstration outside the Boone County Courthouse on Sunday afternoon.

Demonstrators gathered for the event hosted by CoMo for Progress, an organization that advocates for progressive activism, according to its website. Supporters came to show their solidarity with DACA recipients, also known as dreamers, and their opposition to Trump's decision to rescind the Obama-era program.

Born in Mexico, Garcia, 24, first came to the U.S. when she was 5. After a stint in California, her mother, father and two brothers moved to Mexico, Missouri.

Growing up, Garcia took risks on a daily basis without the protection of DACA: driving to school without a driver’s license, working at the only restaurant that would hire her.

When she was 18 and a month away from graduating high school, she saw the repercussions those everyday risks could have, like the day her father was taken from her.

Garcia had already gone to bed that night in April 2011 when her mother jostled her awake. Her father was outside with sheriff's deputies.

He had been pulled over for a broken license plate light. When asked if he could provide documentation, he had none.

Garcia had to wake up to translate her father's deportation for her family.

She watched him beg the officers to not take him away because he had three kids to support, but there was nothing Garcia could do to stop it. Immigration officials were called, and her father was deported.

"Whenever I think about it, it makes me a little angry because it was more than obvious that it was racial profiling," Garcia said. "I'm sure that they saw that he was a Mexican man and they pulled him over on purpose for a very silly reason."

Her mother and two brothers returned to Mexico voluntarily a few months later to join him, leaving Garcia alone. It was one of the hardest times of her life.

"It was really hard watching my dad be taken away, and it was harder whenever my mom had to leave as well," she said.

But in 2012, things got easier. Garcia was granted her DACA status.

"Within that year I was able to get a job. I was able to buy a car. And so, it was perfect timing for it to happen," Garcia said.

Like Garcia, Martha Rios — a DACA recipient — stood with her son and daughter outside the courthouse Sunday to share her story.

"Every single day, my biggest fear is that one day, these two kids, both U.S. citizens, are going to wake up one day and their parents are going to be gone," Rios said. "That they're going to be thrown into a system where they have nothing."

As Rios' daughter wrung her hands on the courthouse steps, one member of the crowd openly wept, shouting out, "Estamos contigo!" which translates to, "We are with you!"

The crowd burst into applause and cheers as Rios said: "I am an American."

"I was brought here when I was 2 years old," Rios continued. "We don't want to go anywhere else because this is our home. This is my children's home."

As Rios spoke, Garcia stood nearby. In front of her was a stroller. Inside it, her 1-year-old son, Xavi Herrera-Garcia, peeked his head out, wearing a white T-shirt with tiny red and blue palm trees making the shape of the U.S. flag.

Garcia attends events like the demonstration for him. When she thinks of the possibility of being deported, while she could try making a living in Mexico, that’s not what she wants for her son.

"I want him to grow up with the privilege of being a citizen. Of going to an American school, and getting an American education, and so it just makes the fight become even stronger, because I want to fight for him now. It's not just about myself now. It's about him as well," Garcia said.

Katie Doherty, a CoMo for Progress advisory board member, said that some of the members of CoMo for Progress are immigrants themselves and feel passionately about immigration. She said last Tuesday's announcement stirred those feelings even more.

"Many of our members, immigrants or not, expressed horror and dismay at ending a program that allows people who are American — in all ways but on paper — to remain in the country," Doherty said in a Facebook message. "We celebrate our diversity and the richness that immigrants and refugees contribute to our community, our economy and American society."

There are an estimated 800,000 dreamers in the U.S., and Missouri has 3,883 DACA applicants, according to previous Missourian reporting. Along with leading chants and giving space for demonstrators to speak, Kate Canterbury, lead organizer with CoMo for Progress, urged the crowd to take action by signing petitions and calling state and local representatives.

"I believe when we chant, that must be followed up by action," Canterbury said. "We're here to help you do the work."

Marilyne Tamayo, a graduate student at MU, said her family and friends who are DACA recipients have been shrouded in uncertainty.

"The people I know, they were sad but also relieved they could apply again. It only gives them a … two-year safety net," Tamayo said. "What’s going to happen after that? There is still some dread and some sadness. They’ve been in the U.S. for so long, they don’t know Spanish. That’s a scary thing."

Speakers throughout the rally had a consistent message for dreamers: you are not alone.

"Esta tierra es tu tierra, esta tierra es mi tierra," the crowd sang in a Spanish translation of Woody Guthrie's anthem, "This Land Is Your Land."

Garcia hopes that by attending these rallies she can help put a face to the issue.

"I grew up in the small town of Mexico, (Missouri) and so (it comes) to some people's surprise I am a DACA recipient and that kind of changes their way of thinking because I'm their neighbor," Garcia said. "I'm their classmate or their coworker. And so it's not just something you hear on TV anymore."

Supervising editor is Tyler Wornell.

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