Thousands of protesters marched in several separate actions across New York City on Tuesday, hours after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the planned end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, exposing around eight hundred thousand young people to deportation.
Almost immediately after Sessions’s announcement on Tuesday morning, protests began in front of Trump Tower, where a crowd of protesters voluntarily faced arrest by sitting in the roadway. The NYPD told the Voice on Tuesday night that it hadn’t tallied final numbers, but organizers said as many as a dozen demonstrators had been cuffed. A second, much larger protest began Tuesday evening in lower Manhattan and ended in a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Demonstrators gathered in Foley Square around 5:30 p.m., where they were addressed by speakers including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office announced last night that it intends to challenge the administration’s order. That protest also saw arrests, including that of City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez and a handful of others, as participants briefly blocked the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.
The DACA program was created by the Obama administration through executive action in 2012 and offered a reprieve from deportation for undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the United States as minors. It was billed as a stopgap after the failure of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have offered more comprehensive protections to that class of immigrants. That bill was blocked by a Republican filibuster in December 2010.
After the rally at Foley Square, with chants of “No ban, no wall, America for all,” marchers made their way across the bridge with a heavy police escort.
One marcher, 23-year-old Kenia Guillen, was among the hundreds of thousands of immigrants whose DACA status allows them to work and attend school legally. She was ten, she said, when her parents emigrated from El Salvador. A Brooklyn College student with one year left in her film program, Guillen said she was unbowed by the day’s news.
“This is not the end, and it’s not unexpected,” Guillen told the Voice. “We knew we weren’t going to be protected under the Trump administration.” Guillen said that living with uncertainty is a part of life in the undocumented community. “It’s another slap to the face, but it’s all about how do we go forward.”
“We’ll continue to make waves,” she added. “We’ll continue to go to school, finish our degrees.”
Another DACA recipient on the bridge, who gave her first name as Cynthia, arrived in the United States from Mexico at age three. Her most likely destination were she to be deported, she said, would be with extended family in Nuevo Laredo, a city riven by drug war violence where she would face sharply limited opportunities. In the United States, she works as an immigration counselor, something she said helped her stay connected to her community and existing networks for support. Those connections are helpful, she said, as her eyes welled.
“But it’s bittersweet,” she added. “You know that you’re helping an immigrant population, but you also know that you’re living it, too.”
The Trump administration announced following Sessions’ announcement that it would immediately stop accepting applications for DACA protection, and end the program entirely in six months. DACA had provided protection from deportation and access to legal work permits, essential to any normal life in the United States.
The Trump administration’s action comes after months of mixed messages on the status of DACA recipients, often referred to as Dreamers. While attacks on the program were a prominent part of the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Trump’s campaign, after the election Trump hinted that he might maintain the status quo. As recently as February, he told reporters that his administration was “going to show great heart” toward DACA recipients, who are already screened for serious criminal convictions and are monitored by immigration authorities.
Anu Joshi with the New York State Immigrant Action Fund said pressuring lawmakers would be a top priority for advocates like her in the wake of the administration’s announcement.
“Number one is to protect DACA recipients and their families as best we can,” Joshi told the Voice. “And two is to advocate for a permanent legislative solution that has no strings attached. Really pushing our Republican congressmen from New York to pressure Speaker [Paul] Ryan and Leader [Mitch] McConnell to bring a clean legislative solution up for a vote.”
A bill to enshrine DACA in law would get enough votes to pass both the U.S. House and Senate, predicted Joshi: “Because Republican leadership has been so unwilling to address the needs of the immigrant communities, that’s the only reason it hasn’t come up for a vote.”