DENVER – An estimated 1,100 students in Denver walked out of class Tuesday after the Trump administration announced it was rescinding the Obama-era immigration program that has protected more than 17,000 people in Colorado from being deported.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the move Tuesday morning, and the Department of Homeland Security officially rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) minutes later.
The administration stopped processing new DACA applications for children brought here illegally by their parents or family members on Tuesday, and the White House called for Congress to address DACA in the long-term as part of a “comprehensive” immigration reform plan.
The program has protected around 800,000 people nationwide and allowed them to study and work in the U.S., and has applied to more than 17,000 people in Colorado.
After Sessions made the announcement, the hundreds of Denver Public Schools students started their walkout, eventually gathering at the Auraria Campus south of downtown.
The school district says it began to organize to get the students out of school and to Auraria as soon as it found out about the protest.
District spokesman Will Jones said the district allowed the walkouts because it wanted students to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Jones told Denver7 that all students who attended the rally either walked with a school representative or rode a district school bus. He said buses were going to take the students back to school or to a safe drop-off location.
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg issued a statement slamming the administration’s DACA decision.
“President Trump’s decision to end DACA is shortsighted, heartless and harmful. Our DACA students and educators have tremendous capacity, potential and desire to contribute to our community,” he said. “Many of them are students and graduates who have spent almost their entire lives in the Denver Public Schools, and we as a community have invested greatly in them and their potential. We know these young people, we welcome and respect them, and we will do all we can to right this wrong.”
Dreamer teachers, students, workers tell of sadness, difficulties
Among the supervisors was Jorge Resendez, a DPS teacher who is also a DACA recipient.
“With DACA being taken away, people are going to try to focus on just the young immigrants who are going to be affected by that,” Resendez said. “But there’s still a whole community of immigrants who are being currently affected by deportations, and I feel like they might get the worst of it.”
He said he’s exchanged stories with some of his students who are also Dreamers.
“Some of my students have known me for a long time. They’ve shared their stories with me, I’ve shared my stories with them,” Resendez said. “I can see every day they’re worried since the election—how they’re worried about what might happen, and finally today, the decision came out.”
And he reinforced what most Dreamers and immigration activists say about DACA—that it isn’t cut-and-dry.
“We’re more than numbers. We’re more than the economy. We’re human and we all matter,” he said. “It’s human lives that are at stake here and are going to be affected by this decision.”
Many Dreamers were anticipating the president’s decision, but still said after it was made that there is no way to fully prepare for what the decision means for them or their futures.
Aaron Hernandez, a senior at one of Denver’s high schools who is also a DACA recipient, said he was proud that so many people walked out in solidarity.
“It means I’m not alone. There are a lot of people here. No one is alone here—everyone has a good ideal to be…the same like everyone else,” Hernandez said. “That makes you strong—a lot of people doing the same as you.”
Monica Acosta, a Dreamer who helped organize the rally, said that Sessions’ memo was read aloud to the group.
“A really heavy moment,” she recalled. “We just took a couple moments afterwards and just sort of stood in silence. It made it really real—the decision.”
“I’ve lived my life in sort of periods and extensions and deadlines, and I think that it’s time for that to be over. A permanent solution is what we need,” Acosta added.
Jose Cruz Bonilla, another Dreamer whose parents brought him to the U.S. as a child, talked of how the administration’s decision will make his working life more difficult and put it up in the air entirely.
“[DACA] has given me the wings to look out and seek new opportunities ahead. This is all the customs, all the traditions—this is all I’ve ever known,” he said.
He was brought to the U.S. when he was just a year old, and said he’s “devastated” by the administration’s decision.
“It’s what gave me my wings to go out and seek new opportunities,” Bonilla said. “It opened a lot of doors for me and other Dreamers—just a whole bunch of opportunities, whether it’s for work or for school—it’s something to better ourselves.
State House Speaker Crisanta Duran implored Congress to “put politics aside and put people first” in putting legislation together to protect Dreamers.
Universities, lawmakers pushing new DACA action
— CU Boulder (@CUBoulder) September 5, 2017
Its president, Kerrie Dallman, called the administration’s decision “awful,” and said, “We won’t stand for political games that will rip so many bright, young minds out of Colorado and our country.”
Meanwhile, most of Colorado’s Congressional delegation said Tuesday it would work to pass protections via Congress, though how exactly that might happen remains unknown.
The DREAM Act is again on the table, and Rep. Mike Coffman’s Bridge Act—which would extend DACA protections for three years—is as well. Coffman was expected to introduce a discharge petition to force a vote on the measure Tuesday afternoon.
Denver7's Amanda del Castillo contributed to this report.