A statue of President Abraham Lincoln was the background to a demonstration rally that took place in Waukegan on Tuesday to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was rescinded by the Trump administration Sept. 5.
The environmental activist group Clean Power Lake County and the Father Gary Graf Center led the event, which called to action those who support the program that advocates say has allowed about 800,000 immigrants to stay in the U.S.
Known as Dreamers, those who qualified for DACA are children who entered the United States before age 16 with parents who were undocumented immigrants. DACA also requires that applicants have committed no serious crimes since coming to the U.S.
On Tuesday, about 100 people clustered around speakers to hear the stories of some of the young Dreamers who reside in Lake County.
Ash Colin first spoke in Spanish and then English. He told the crowd his hard work and the DACA program have allowed him to contribute to his community.
Colin was brought to the U.S. by his parents at age 8 from Toluca, Mexico. After graduating from Waukegan High School, he secured financial assistance through the Schuler Scholar Program and attended Beloit College in Wisconsin.
Colin said he traveled to other states to teach kids in camps about sustainability after graduating from Beloit in 2013 with a major in geology.
“It’s a horrible feeling to have so many hopes and dreams for what you want to be, and then have the doors shut,” Colin said. “Right now, I have a job with the Chicago Botanic Gardens. I’m the grower for their Lake County Youth Farm site.”
Other high school and college students also gave their testimony. Some said since DACA, they have been able to work and have bought cars and a home. All of them urged the community to help them continue their lives here, asking people to call local representatives and tell them to work on immigration reform.
President Donald Trump said he would give Congress up to six months to find a legislative alternative to DACA after rescinding the program earlier this month.
Illinois is among more than 15 states suing to block Trump’s termination of the program, arguing the move is unconstitutional.
Julio Guzman of Clean Power Lake County and the Sierra Club said Tuesday’s rally was to get legislators to “pass the Dream Act 2017 or introduce another act.”
“In addition, go all the way — we need comprehensive immigration reform,” Guzman said. “We need to fix and revitalize our American economy by getting people out of the shadows who want to be here, who want to work and who have already made a living here.”
Illinois has roughly 42,000 of the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients nationwide, according to an Associated Press report earlier this month. The state has the third-highest number of approved applications, after California and Texas.
In between speakers at Tuesday’s demonstration, there were chants like, “Education, not deportation.”
Waukegan resident Nicole Romany said she attended the rally because she sympathizes with the immigrant community’s plight. Originally from Trinidad, Romany said she knows what it’s like to be separated from family.
Some of the Dreamers who would be in danger of being deported live within mixed-status households with other family members who are not subject to deportation.
“I would like to see a change,” Trinidad said. “This system of people always afraid is not right.”
Since the news of the ending of DACA, local immigrant service organizations have taken steps to keep the immigrant community informed and have started regular workshops that help Dreamers and their families navigate through the policy, as well as providing mental health counselors.
Yadira Sanchez Olson is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.