Amid reports that President Donald Trump would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as soon as Sept. 1 an “emergency vigil” was held in Oakland on Aug. 31 to support undocumented people.
President Trump’s possible ending of the Obama administration’s policy to allow children whose parents brought them into the United States without documentation to live, study, and work in the country sent waves of fear and hopelessness through the DACA recipient community.
“I heard someone say ‘my light is dim right now,’ and it really is,” said one DACA recipient to a crowd of 100 supporters.
Religious leaders lead the vigil in prayer for the roughly 15 DACA recipients present, and for the hundreds of thousands across the U.S. The ministers and rabbis, community organizers, and undocumented residents all had a chance to speak.
Yania E., a 27-year-old nursing student and DACA recipient, attended the vigil in search of comfort and to support her DACA-recipient fiancé.
“I am really in need of support right now,” she said. “I could use the community holding me.”
Yania talked about how DACA “really changed my life. I can dream of being a nurse now. I couldn’t do that before because even if I had completed the school, there was no way for me to get me license.”
Yania said that DACA allowed for her to go back to school and could work “without having to lie about who I am all the time, part of my identity all the time.”
Gerardo Gomez, a 22-year-old political science major at San Francisco State University and DACA recipient—who is a fellow through the SF Office of Civic Engagement and Immigration Affairs with Pangea Legal Services—spoke about the need of the community to recognize the DACA recipients as individuals.
“We are more than just immigrants,” said Gomez. “It’s more than just our identities; we are human beings and we have many complicated layers.”
The San Francisco resident said that he identifies as a “queer, gay man” and has been HIV-positive for the past three years. He says that if DACA is abolished and he is not able to work, he could not afford rent and would lose his health insurance, rendering him unable to pay for expensive HIV medications.
“Immigration affects us in so many different ways that we don’t talk about,” he said, choking back tears. “Our mental health, our physical health, how it affects our loved ones.”
Rev. Dr. Art Cribbs, executive director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, raised his hand above each undocumented individual after they spoke and lead the group of supporters in chants of, “You are our light.”
Community organizations also came to show support.
Wei Lee, the program coordinator for ASPIRE, the first pan-Asian undocumented youth group that supports immigrant rights, talked about his reasons for being at the vigil.
“I am here today to stand [with] and support my fellow undocumented immigrants, to protect DACA,” he said, “to assure our communities that no matter what happens with DACA, we’re still going to be here, we’re still going to move forward, together, to protect all immigrants regardless of their status and want to really assure all these people who might be impacted by Trump’s decision on DACA.”
Still, Yania said that if DACA was revoked by the Trump administration, she would go back to living without documentation. But there is a new risk in doing so.
“Except now, my information is out there; my identity is out there,” said Yania. “Before I could hide the fact that I was undocumented, so I don’t know what would happen.”
Story by: Aaron Levy-Wolins