Paul Quiñonez came to the United States when he was seven years old to be reunited with his father. Today, he’s a graduate of Gonzaga University with degrees in economics and political science. But without the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Quiñonez told the gathered crowd on Tuesday afternoon at El Centro de la Raza, he would have never graduated college or become a core organizer with the Washington Dream Coalition, the state’s largest advocacy organization led by undocumented youth.
And while he is proud of those accomplishments, Quiñonez is also weary of relying on them as justification for his right to live in the United States. “Neither myself nor the 800,000 DACA recipients throughout the country should have to constantly justify (our) existence in this nation and the contributions we have made to it,” he said, to mounting applause. “Our humanity should be recognized.”
This morning, President Donald Trump—as expected—ordered an end to DACA, an Obama-era policy that allows immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children an opportunity to stay, study, and work. This afternoon, a slew of local politicians and community leaders rallied in Seattle and vowed to fight with legislation, lawsuits, and political pressure. Groups ranging from OneAmerica and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to the Freedom Socialist Party and Planned Parenthood clustered in the plaza outside El Centro de la Raza in Beacon Hill, chanting, hoisting signs, hugging, and, sometimes, weeping.
A volunteer with OneAmerica named Teresa spoke on behalf of her two children: “As a mother I bring them here,” she said, “because the place that we were living was not safe for them.” She added that DACA recipients, as well as the vast majority of immigrants, are assets to their communities. “What we have brought to the country is talent. They are the future doctors. They are the future organizers. … They are the other ones who want to make America great. This”—supporting DACA, supporting undocumented youth, and supporting comprehensive immigration reform—“is the real way to make America great.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who promised on Monday that if Trump ended DACA, he would sue, said his legal team had been working through Labor Day weekend, in partnership with other Democratic attorneys general across the country. “The President’s announcement today is as dark as it gets,” Ferguson told the crowd. But “as cruel and inhuman as the action is, there’s one other problem with it. I think it’s illegal.”
He pointed to his office’s success in stopping Trump’s initial ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries, among other suits aimed at the Trump Administration, and said with a grin, “I’m not keeping score or anything, but so far we’re 4 and 0.” Although he couldn’t yet predict when the suit would be filed, he said, “I’ll tell you this: It will be very soon. It will be very, very soon.”
Many in Seattle and across the country, including former president Barack Obama, are condemning the president for his order. But Trump described the action Tuesday as “a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.” The order rescinds DACA, but ensures protection for current DACA holders until their permits run out, and gives Congress six months to come up with some kind of legislative fix. This means that, for now, no new DACA applications will be accepted after September 5, but DACA recipients whose temporary permits are set to expire before next March will be allowed to apply for a two-year renewal by October 5. Quiñonez says, for instance, that his permit is good until 2019, under the current system. But every speaker at the rally—from Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib to City Councilmember M. Lorena González, DACA recipients to community organizers—called loudly for everyone present to put pressure on Congress to act.
There are currently an estimated 800,000 DACA recipients, a.k.a. “Dreamers,” across the country, including nearly 18,000 in Washington state. Polls indicate that a majority of Americans support DACA, even among Trump’s base; many argue that the U.S. is the only country the vast majority of DACA recipients have ever known, and shouldn’t be punished for the choices their parents made. (Trump, too, echoed that sentiment Tuesday, but added “we are a nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”) Enoka Herat, Police Practices and Immigration Counsel for the ACLU of Washington, on Tuesday called Trump’s decision “an act of cruelty” that injects “chaos and uncertainty into thousands of workplaces and communities across America.” Dreamers, Herat said, “are our doctors, soldiers, and students. They are neighbors, family, and friends.” Research also shows DACA recipients are a huge boon to the U.S. economy, and the elimination of the program could cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.
Firm and passionate statements, and some concrete actions, from many local public officials also rolled in Tuesday. The King County Council voted unanimously to pass legislation “calling on Congress to swiftly and comprehensively protect the legal status of thousands of Dreamers” and directing King County’s federal government relations team to prioritize those efforts. Habib, speaking at the rally, promised a state-level hotline to provide resources to immigrants and state-level legislation to secure access to higher ed for undocumented youth—“A second Washington State Dream Act,” he said.
Mayor Ed Murray vowed that, despite this news, “the City of Seattle will continue to lead in protecting immigrants and refugees,” both through the newly-established Legal Defense Fund and Seattle’s oft-reiterated commitment to ensure that no city employee or police officer ask about citizenship status. All city services are available to all residents, regardless of immigration status, Murray said. City Attorney Pete Holmes reiterated that promise: “I will do everything in my power as City Attorney to ensure that the City of Seattle continues to treat everyone fairly regardless of immigration status, including potentially filing yet another legal challenge against the Trump Administration,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “Our lawyers have been looking into possible claims for some time and we will accelerate our efforts.”
Both mayoral candidates also underscored their commitment to the above. Jenny Durkan offered a list of specific steps to “Make Sanctuary Real,” including continuing to support the Legal Defense Fund and the Family Unity Project, a community education program for immigrant students and their families. Cary Moon said “we must be more than just a sanctuary city. We must have affordable housing, jobs, education, and progressive infrastructure to ensure we all thrive.”
Murray also expressed hope, along with King County Executive Dow Constantine, that Congress will indeed act, perhaps even extending, rather than limiting, protections for DACA recipients (some have argued that DACA is just a Band-Aid, after all, as it simply defers action rather than creates a pathway to legal status). “I hope federal legislators use this opportunity to pass a more progressive DREAM Act, one that extends citizenship to Dreamers … and that also extends citizenship to the parents of Dreamers,” Murray said.
District 7 U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, finding that Trump has “once again sided with hate and xenophobia, putting in place a repeal that is cruel, inhumane and unjust,” promised, in the short term, at least, to urge her colleagues “to immediately pass stand-alone legislation to protect Dreamers.” In July, District 1 U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene helped introduce the American Hope Act, legislation that would not only protect DACA recipients, but provide a five-year pathway to citizenship for them.
In the meantime, many remain anxious and angry—and determined.
“For our opponents, this is purely political; they stand to lose nothing,” said González, her voice getting hoarse; she, too, is the child of formerly undocumented immigrants. “For immigrant families, this is personal. We stand to lose everything we believe in and everything we love. But I know, I have to believe, that justice will prevail because we are on the right side of history. … Now is the time to fight, now is the time to double down. We demand a clean Dream Act from Congress—now.”