Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Colorado Springs Tuesday to protest the Trump administration’s decision to end the program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program was created by the Obama administration in 2012, and allowed certain people who had entered the United States illegally as children to apply for work permits and protection from deportation.
Supporters of DACA assembled in Acacia Park, carrying signs bearing phrases like “Our Dreams Can’t Wait,” and “Education Not Deportation.” Local politicians and undocumented students from University of Colorado Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Community College addressed the crowd and led chants.
Nayda Benitez is a senior at UCCS and was one of the rally's organizers. She spoke to the crowd about her experience as an undocumented immigrant who came to the United States with her family at the age of 7.
"We 'DREAMers' are human beings," she said, using the term for people who qualify for DACA. "We deserve dignity and respect. We are casualties of a broken immigration system."
20-year-old Nayeli Vargas, another DREAMer, watched from the crowd. She wore a cap and gown -- a symbol, she said, of the many DREAMers like her who have graduated from high school. Vargas attended Mitchell High in Colorado Springs, and said she's looking forward to enrolling later this year in a massage therapy program. She described DACA as a "sign of hope for us to better our future."
As for her reaction to the news that the Trump administration is ending DACA: "It broke my heart," said Vargas. "In a way, it's like all my parents' hard work to get us here and all the hard work to get to where I am now, it evaporates."
Also in the crowd were many like Rich Soriano, who, though not himself a DREAMer, supports the DACA program. Soriano waved a large American flag, saying he wanted to stand up for, in his view, what "being American means," adding that the DREAMers simply "want to be American."
"I was the son of migrant workers," said Soriano. "This could easily be me that's being threatened by the actions of the administration."
Following speeches from local politicians such as Colorado Springs City Council member Yolanda Avila, 5th Congressional District Democratic candidate Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding, and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mike Johnston, attendees began to march through downtown Colorado Springs.
Led by a group of local students, marchers made their way to the office of Republican Senator Cory Gardner.
Once in front of the Tejon Street office building, speakers continued to share stories about DACA and plead for those in attendance to call their congressional representatives and urge support for new legislation to protect DREAMers from deportation.
As they did so, Senator Garnder was making an announcement of his own. Tuesday afternoon, he declared that he will cosponsor legislation -- the Dream Act of 2017 -- that offers legal permanent residence and a pathway to citizenship for qualifying DREAMers. Also sponsoring the bill is Colorado's Democratic Senator, Michael Bennet.
In a statement, Gardner said, "I have long called for an overhaul of our country’s immigration system and believe this is an important step. I will continue to work with Senator Bennet and our colleagues in the Senate to move this bill forward into law.”