DACA Dreamers close to home

CLINTON OLSASKY, Executive Editor

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“Iowa is welcoming.” “Families belong together.” “No racism, no fear.” “Immigrants are welcome here.”

These were just some of the chants that reverberated throughout Main Street this past Friday, as hundreds of Cedar Valley community members, many of whom were current and former UNI students, marched in solidarity to denounce the Trump administration’s ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

DACA, an immigration policy established in 2012 by the Obama administration, had granted individuals who had illegally entered the United States as minors a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation. Most recent estimates place the number of people enrolled in the DACA program at around 800,000.

Friday’s march was organized to not only denounce the end of DACA, but to also call for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

The march itself began at Gateway Park and continued down Main Street across the Cedar River, culminating in a rally outside of US Representative Rod Blum’s office at the corner of Main and West 5th Street.

Throughout the march, participants carried signs that read messages such as, “We won’t go back into the shadows” and “I support dreamers.”

Several local organizations and advocacy groups came together to organize the event. Among these were Cedar Valley Advocates for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (CVAIRR), Americans for Democratic Action Iowa and Panthers for DREAM Iowa.

One of the many speakers at the march was Ashley Sanchez, president of Panthers for DREAM Iowa and senior psychology and Spanish double major at UNI. Sanchez, who kicked off the march with her speech at Gateway Park, stressed the importance of standing in solidarity on the issue of immigration.

“They say we are a burden to this country, but we make this country flourish,” Sanchez said before the crowd of several hundred people. “We do not plan to be silenced; we plan to be accepted.”

Panthers for DREAM Iowa is UNI’s chapter of DREAM Iowa, a statewide non-profit organization that represents undocumented Iowans through bipartisan solutions to issues such as immigration reform.

The group’s name is inspired by the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act – a legislative proposal that aims to qualify alien minors through a multi-step process that involves first granting conditional residency and, later, permanent residency.

Given the proposal’s close associations with the DACA program, the 800,000 individuals enrolled in DACA are often collectively referred to as Dreamers.

DREAM Iowa co-founder Nilvia Brownson, an undocumented Dreamer herself, also spoke at Friday’s march, addressing the crowd in front of Blum’s office.

Brownson shared her story, recalling how she came to the United States at just 14 months old as her mother was escaping domestic violence in her home country.

“I am sick and tired of people demonizing our parents,” Brownson said to thunderous applause.

Brownson also spoke about her current role as a mother and how the end of DACA could adversely affect families such as her own.

“My daughter and husband are citizens, and if I was deported, my family would suffer,” Brownson said.

Lisa Speicher Munoz, a representative from CVAIRR, spoke at the march and called for a realistic pathway to citizenship and a deeper understanding for the plight of immigrants.

“For too long, myths about immigrants have served to divide us,” Munoz said. “Immigrants and their families should not be scapegoats for what we don’t understand.”

Following Munoz, Thomas Kessler, coordinator of the Peace and Justice Center of the Cedar Valley, spoke about incorporating faith into the issue of immigration.

“To really make a difference, thought, prayer and express support must be turned into action,” Kessler said. “I challenge each one of us here this evening to work on a foundation of faith to support our fellow Dreamers […] Do not be silent during these defining times.”

Kessler closed his speech with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr, saying, “Ultimately, a great nation is a compassionate nation.”

Next, Umaru Balde, another CVAIRR representative, briefly addressed the crowd in front of Blum’s office.

“Thank you for choosing the right side,” Balde said. “My message is short and hopefully clear for the Dreamers: do not give up.”

Itzel Ivon Chavez, a Dreamer attending Hawkeye Community College, was the final speaker to address the crowd. She succinctly summarized the pervading theme for the evening.

“Old and young, we want our pathway to citizenship now,” Chavez said. “We are all one family.”

Silvia Pellegrino, junior global studies and political science major, was one of the many UNI students who attended the rally.

Pellegrino, who is an immigrant from Sicily, serves as the president of the student organization RISE (Refugee and Immigrant Support and Empowerment). She described her experience at Friday’s march.

“While we were chanting about a welcoming Iowa and the importance of education for all, we walked past a café with people sitting outside clapping and encouraging us,” Pellegrino said.

“There was no counter protest as in past rallies, and cars were passing giving us thumbs up[s]. I felt welcomed [and] accepted […] I am proud to live in a community where these people are not afraid to speak up against unfairness.”

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