Drivers honked and people beat drums in downtown Mount Vernon on Tuesday as dozens lined the intersection of Third and Kincaid streets to protest a decision announced earlier in the day by President Donald Trump that could affect up to 800,000 young immigrants living in America – some of them in Skagit County.
It was the first of two rallies held near the Skagit County Courthouse protesting Trump’s announcement to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
The program allows young people brought illegally to the United States as children and with no criminal record to remain in the country legally and obtain a work permit.
“We’re talking about individuals, some of whom haven’t known any other country,” said Jim Justice, chair of the Skagit Immigrant Rights Council, which organized the first rally. “In every sense of the word, they’re American. They just weren’t born here.”
DACA has made a difference in the life of 18-year-old Kenia Ocampo.
It gives me a reason to be here and go to schools and to have a job.
Kenia Ocampo, an aspiring orthodontist.
“It gives me a reason to be here and go to schools and to have a job,” said Ocampo, an aspiring orthodontist.
She was heartened to see so many people line the streets to support her and others like her.
“It feels really good,” she said. “I feel like everyone deserves to be here and they see that. And that’s amazing.”
While not unexpected, Trump’s announcement could have a lasting impact on some of the young people who call Skagit County home.
“We’re not who (Trump) says we are,” said 19-year-old Dania Jaramillo, an undocumented student at Skagit Valley College who is a member of the college’s new Dreamers Club. The term Dreamer is often applied to DACA recipients.
In Washington state, ending DACA would impact more than 17,500 people, according to a letter sent to Trump by members of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation. It would also cost the state an estimated $1.1 billion in annual gross domestic product.
“Like many immigrants before them, these brave young people strengthen our economy and are valued members of our communities,” the letter states. “DACA has allowed these young people to pursue their dreams to become teachers, doctors, and entrepreneurs. Our economy and society are better for Washington state’s determination to create an inclusive society.”
The letter was signed by eight Democratic members of Congress, including Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Reps. Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene, who represent Skagit County.
Larsen and DelBene both support the proposed American Hope Act of 2017, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for those who meet certain criteria.
Without that pathway, the fates of undocumented students throughout the country is uncertain.
“After those two years, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Flora Zamorano, president of the Dreamers Club, said of the time remaining on her DACA status.
Some members of the club have remained silent about their undocumented status out of fear, Zamorano said.
For Alejandro Loaiza, an IT technician at the college and a former student, the turning point in being open about his status came early in Trump’s presidential campaign, when the Trump claimed Mexicans were “rapists” and criminals.
“At that point, I said, ‘No, hold on. I am very talented. I have skills other people don’t,’” Loaiza said. “When he said that quote is when I decided to come out as a Dreamer.”
This is a talent the Trump administration is pushing away. Mexicans are not dumb; we’re not stupid.
Alejandro Loaiza, an IT technician at Skagit Valley College
Loaiza said he isn’t seriously concerned should he be unable to renew his DACA status. He said he could likely find a job anywhere.
“This is a talent the Trump administration is pushing away,” he said. “Mexicans are not dumb; we’re not stupid.”
Loaiza said his main concern, should he be deported, is for his younger siblings who look up to him as an example of what can come from hard work and higher education.
“My concern is my little brothers and my little sister,” Loaiza said. “What happens if we leave?”
Skagit Valley College President Tom Keegan said he was disheartened about the announcement.
“I think it is a deeply depressing and disparaging action that strikes at the core of who we are,” Keegan said. “Not only are (Dreamers) our students, they are our colleagues, neighbors, friends and relatives.”
The college, Keegan said, will continue to serve DACA recipients and help them navigate what comes next.
“We will continue to reach out to all with open hearts and open minds,” Keegan said. “We must and will continue to provide a safe environment for our students and employees.”
Keegan joined the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges, the Washington Student Achievement Council and presidents from the 33 other state community colleges, six public universities and 10 private universities in signing a statement in support of DACA.
“This lamentable decision to end DACA threatens to rob us of hundreds of thousands of gifted, hardworking and dedicated young people who are American in every way but their immigration status,” the statement reads. “We agree with the many business leaders throughout the country who are urging Congress to pass the bipartisan Dream Act or legislation that will allow these students to continue to contribute to the global competitive environment.”
What comes next isn’t clear.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Monday said he plans to file suit against what he called Trump’s “cruel and illegal policy” and defend DACA recipients, according to the Associated Press.
Other state attorneys general, including those in New York and California, will reportedly do the same.