Last week, Trump announced that he would terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was implemented under former President Barack Obama by executive order, in six months.
DACA shields 800,000 undocumented immigrants, brought to the country by their parents when they were young, from deportation and gives them the ability to work legally.
In exchange, the young immigrants, often called “Dreamers,” handed over information to the federal government and paid fees for the program. Trump called on Congress to pass legislation to formally legalize the program, but the future of DACA remains unclear.
Queens is home to large immigrant populations in neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights and Corona, so ending DACA would have a large impact on local residents.
Make the Road New York, a local immigrant rights advocacy organization, organized the march to bring the issue directly to the people who may be impacted.
“First of all, we’re mad,” said Natalia Aristizabal, co-director of organizing with Make the Road, when asked about her reaction to the news. “But we also know that we can’t, in this moment, stay frozen in front of all the injustices and discrimination and xenophobia.”
Aristizabal said the group’s members have felt “a mix of fear, despair and sadness.” Many have raised questions about what happens when their work permit expires, or what the Trump administration will do with their information.
Last week, Make the Road challenged the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA in federal court. The lawsuit, brought by a DACA recipient, argued that Trump’s actions violate federal equal protection laws in the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit, first filed in November 2016, was amended after the recent announcement, claims the president’s actions are “explicitly racist,” Aristizabal said.
“The president ran a campaign on the platform of hate and bigotry, where he was talking awfully about the Mexican community,” she said. “The numbers for DACA say over 90 percent of folks who benefited from DACA are Latino, and over 70 percent are Mexican. So what we’re saying is this is a specific attack to the Latino community.”
Attorney generals and other state officials have also challenged the president’s decision, which will be decided in court.
In the meantime, Aristizabal said it’s “up to the people who are directly affected and allied” to continue to fight for relief for the entire undocumented community. She called on advocates to call members of Congress, share and elevate immigrant narratives and put pressure for legislation to pass.
“The opportunity we have here is that more people than ever know who Dreamerers are and that this is an issue that has a legislative solution,” Aristizabal said. “I think now more than ever, we can move this.”
Part of that work, Aristizabal said, is to be “loud and clear” that immigrants are an essential part of the community in the country, in New York and in Queens.
Antonio Alarcon, an immigrant youth organizer with Make the Road and a DACA recipient, said he felt anger and frustration that the president undid 16 years worth of work “in a couple of seconds.”
When he enrolled in DACA, Alarcon was able to obtain a driver’s license, a work permit and lived without the fear of deportation.
His family moved back to Mexico in 2012, and his brother has stayed there since 2005. After several years, he was able to reunite with his family and see his brother.
Alarcon said he’s not afraid, having seen the resilience of his community for years.
“There’s thousands of Dreamers who still have no papers, and they still survive in this country,” he said. “We’re not going back in the shadows. We have fought so many battles already, we’re not ready to go back.”
He said he’ll continue to be “on the frontlines of this battle” not only for himself, but for his family.
“More than ever, our families need to see that us undocumented Dreamers, we’re not afraid,” Alarcon said, “and that we will continue to fight for ourselves and them as well.”