Dozens rallied in front of the Wake County Courthouse last night to mourn the coming end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that granted temporary
work permits and a deportation reprieve to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors. Protesters wore all black and carried candles in a pseudo-vigil, calling the action "muerte de sueños," or death of dreams—a reference to the sense of paralysis and fear many DACA recipients feel in the face of an uncertain future.
"We have gathered here today to mourn the loss of the beloved dreams and futures of eight hundred thousand people," said Mike Figueras, the youth program coordinator for the advocacy group El Pueblo, which helped coordinate the event. "These dreams were taken away way too soon before they were able to flourish. These dreams were too young to die at the hands of those currently in Washington, D.C."
Figueras stood next to a black coffin decorated with candles and the word "dreams" written across the front in white. As he spoke, somber funeral music played in the background.
Protesters also called on Congress to come up with a legislative fix for the program. In September, President Trump announced that he would end the policy and called on Congress to come up with a replacement before it expires in March 2018. The decision has thrown the fate of nearly eight hundred thousand DACA recipients, or Dreamers, as they're often referred to, into uncertainty. If Congress doesn't come up with a solution, DACA recipients could soon begin losing their temporary statuses and face deportation.
The possibility is gutting for many Triangle recipients who have taken advantage of the program to secure work permits, driver’s licenses, and even college educations.
"I was the first girl in all of my family to graduate high school and first to even enroll in college," said Maria Gonzalez, a member of El Pueblo's youth council. "But because of my legal status, I almost had to drop out. Every form of financial aid I applied for was futile and not enough. … My biggest dream growing up was just to go to college. And I was faced with having to drop out because people in office have deemed young immigrants unworthy of simple things. Things such as equal access to an education, a license, a work permit, even just peace of mind from not having to panic at the sight of a cop."
Gonzalez read from a letter she drafted to Senator Thom Tillis, who recently introduced what he dubbed a "conservative Dream Act," which would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of young undocumented immigrants but has stricter requirements than Democratic alternatives and would involve "extreme vetting" for applicants. Activists are calling on Tillis and other legislators to instead support a "clean" Dream Act that would provide DACA recipients with permanent relief in the form of U.S. citizenship—a legislative solution young Dreamers and immigration advocates have long been calling for.
"Mr. Tillis, I get that you have an image to uphold," Gonzalez continued. "I know you want to keep your voters voting for you and your funders giving you money. But please stop playing politics with our lives."
Jorge Ramos, also a member of the youth council, doubled down on the urgent need for a clean Dream Act and called on North Carolinians to stand with the immigrant community.
"I was not born illegal, but what they're doing to us is real, immensely real,” he said. “And just because it's not happening to you doesn't mean you should just stand by and let this happen. Do not put us in your thoughts and prayers when it's too late, when they've taken our parents, when we're sitting in detention camps, or killed trying to make it back. No. Do something while we're still here!"
After the speeches ended, rally-goers lit their candles and observed a moment of silence. Then, they lifted the lid of the casket, filled with white balloons representing the dreams of DACA recipients, which drifted into the chilly cobalt December sky.