‘We’re not criminals’: SLO County residents rally to support DACA, Dreamers

San Luis Obispo County residents rallied around the county’s immigrant population after President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced plans to end the Obama administration program that protects young people brought to the United States illegally as children.

The president took the first step toward dissolving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — also known as DACA — which delays immigration enforcement for eligible young people. DACA provides recipients with a special status that allows them to legally work, attend school and apply for educational financial aid.

Calling the program illegal, the Trump administration announced its termination would come after a six-month delay to give Congress time to pass a legislative fix that might allow 800,000 people here illegally to stay in the only country many of them have ever known.

On Tuesday evening, a group of residents rallied in support of DACA and Dreamers outside U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal’s Marsh Street office in San Luis Obispo. Carbajal, a Democrat, represents California’s 24th Congressional district, which includes San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

Dozens of protesters carrying signs that read ‘DACA welcome’ and ‘Congress, show your love to our DACA Dreamers’ chanted in support of the county’s immigrant community.

“Students, like other undocumented people — as well as other people in mixed-status families — are concerned, are anxious, are frustrated, and have a lot of questions,” said Jane Lehr, a Cal Poly professor and founding member of the Central Coast Coalition for Undocumented Student Success, which organized the Tuesday rally.

Dreamers who apply for DACA status are required to submit personal information about themselves and their families. Lehr said many of those who submitted applications are now concerned that information could be used against them.

“With the rescinding of the DACA program, there’s a concern about that data and the impact that it might have,” she said. “Not only on the DACA recipients, but also on their families.”

A Department of Homeland Security official told reporters that DACA recipients’ personal identifying information won’t be used for enforcement purposes, though their records will be maintained.

Erica Garcia chanted and held a sign made by a friend that read, ‘The people united will never be divided’ in Spanish. Garcia, a first-generation Mexican-American, said she came to the rally in support of her family.

“I believe anybody should have a chance to make it in this country, no matter where you come from,” she said.

Natalia Reyna — a former Dreamer who said she attained legal status after she married her husband — said she was brought to the United States from Mexico 16 years ago, when she was 9 years old. Her sister, who was 12 when the family left their home country, still relies on the DACA program.

“We just want to contribute to this country,” Reyna said. “We love this country — it’s all we know.”

Reyna said the DACA program helped her get a better job and earn her Certified Nurse Assistant license. Her sister, a Cuesta College student, hopes to become a preschool teacher one day. Both are mothers to children born in the United States.

“We’re not criminals,” Reyna said. “We’re just here to work hard.”

In a news release from Washington, Carbajal condemned Tuesday’s action by the Trump administration, while challenging Congress to take action to protect Dreamers.

“I was once a young immigrant to this nation, which has since given me the opportunity to work hard, raise my family, and serve my country both in the military and in Congress,” he said. “Terminating DACA and stripping Dreamers of that hope and opportunity is unconscionable and incompatible with our American values.”

Carbajal said more than 9,000 students, entrepreneurs, and military members living on the Central Coast are eligible for the program.

“Congress must take immediate action to protect Dreamers before the program is set to expire. I am proud to co-sponsor the DREAM Act, to permanently codify DACA, and I urge my colleagues in the majority to stand up for Dreamers by immediately bringing this legislation to the floor for a vote,” he added.

Elsewhere around the state, Democrat leaders blasted Trump’s decision and called for quick action to defend the more than 200,000 Dreamers living in California.

Attorney General Xavier Beccera said he is readying a lawsuit against the Trump administration, while legislative leaders are discussing further measures to shield the unauthorized immigrants from deportation.

“We believe the Trump administration has violated the Constitution, federal law, and certainly we believe wholeheartedly the Trump administration has ignored the American people,” Becerra said, adding he would sue “when it seems appropriate.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Rep. Salud Carbajal’s title. Carbajal represents California’s 24th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

McClatchy Washington Bureau staff writers Anita Kumar and Franco Ordoñez and Sacramento Bee writers Christopher Cadelago and Angela Hart contributed to this report.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27

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