CLEVELAND — Hundreds of people gathered in Market Square Park on Thursday where they held a candlelight vigil in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients, the Dream Act and all immigrants.
Ralliers heard stories from people who are DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” and how they came to the United States as children. The Dreamers spoke of how proud they were when for the first time they stepped out of the shadows of an uncertain future to register for the program.
DACA recipients are commonly referred to as Dreamers based on the never-passed DREAM Act that would have provided similar protections for young immigrants.
Some applied for jobs and college for the first time, they told stories of how they felt protected and able to plan for their futures.
But with DACA ending in six months, they once again face uncertain futures. Despite this, they spoke out and said they fully intend to fight President Donald Trump’s decision to end DACA.
Among the hundreds present were about a dozen members of the Lorain Ohio Immigrant Rights Association, which included some local DACA recipients.
At one point during the rally organizers asked Dreamers present to raise their hands. One hand that rose was that of a 17-year-old girl from Lorain who was present with the Lorain group.
Her hand rose slowly, as if she was uncertain whether to point herself out in front of hundreds of strangers. As LOIRA secretary, Javier Espitia said there have been several instances of vocal DACA recipients receiving unexpected and unwanted visits from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials after they had been vocal in media reports.
Others have faced harassment from peers or people in the community who don’t have compassion for undocumented immigrants, Espitia said.
Espitia urged the girl after the rally not to use her name in this report for those reasons. Although she wanted to name herself, she ultimately decided not to have it published in the newspaper.
During the rally, she took to the stage at one point to read the story of a 14-year-old boy who had planned to register for DACA when he became eligible at 15 next year.
The boy, who was going to attend the rally but decided not to out of fear, had dreams of joining the military or becoming a police officer, but for him, those dreams may not become realities.
After reading his story, the girl from Lorain unexpectedly decided to briefly address the crowd to talk about herself. She spoke of her desire not to live in fear and to fight for Dreamers.
“I’m fighting and will not give up,” she told the crowd. “This is my home.”
For a moment she was overcome with emotion.
“Like the other Dreamer said, ‘I may not be American,’ ” she said, as she paused and held back tears. “‘I may not be American by paper, but I am by heart.’ ”
After the rally the girl told her story more fully. She came here with her mother at age 5 from Mexico to reunite with her father, who was already living here. She said she remembers crossing the border with strangers.
“When I first came here, it was all new to me,” she said. “Everything was different. I had to learn English. I was scared.”
Both of her parents are undocumented, and she has an 11-year-old sister who was born in the United States. The family lives in fear, she said, because if she and her parents are deported, her sister would be left behind without any family.
She described the day she applied for DACA as an amazing feeling of “coming out of the shadows.” She applied for a job as a hostess at a restaurant and started making plans to apply for college at Cleveland State University to study psychology.
“I felt protected by having that,” she said. “I went to church and thanked God for the DACA program.”
When she heard about Trump’s decision this week, she said she was shocked. Thousands will be affected, and no one knows whether they will be deported, lose jobs or be denied entry into colleges, she said.
She’s not surprised Trump made such a decision, and she isn’t surprised there are Americans who think people like her should be deported. She just wishes people would pay attention to what is happening and how it is affecting people like her who came to the United States as children, and others who left their home countries as adults to escape corrupt governments and dangerous situations.
The girl said after Trump was elected, a teacher at her school, who was unaware of her situation, made an inappropriate joke to her that she would be deported.
“I want people to get informed of what’s happening,” she said. “My teacher made a racist joke, and I talked to him to tell him it wasn’t funny to me. This is something that’s happening right now to people, and he thought it was just a joke. He didn’t know it was actually happening to his students.”
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