Students gathered at the University of Connecticut last night in a rally to support the “Dreamers” who may be impacted by the end of the national Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program.
Dozens of students and faculty gathered outside the John W. Rowe Center for Undergraduate Education on the overcast evening to speak and listen to speakers talk about the importance of the DACA program, which President Trump recently announced he would be “winding down” the program.
“I cried for myself and for the 800,000 people like me and their families,” Jonathan Gonzalez, a student at Southern Connecticut State University and DACA recipient said at the rally.
Before DACA, Gonzalez was unable to have a driver’s license or hold a job legally.
“DACA changed my life,” Gonzalez said. “I was able to get my first real job and drive legally without fear of getting pulled over and deported.”
Karla Garcia, the President of UConn Student’s Without Borders said DACA gave her the ability to come out of hiding as an undocumented immigrant.
“I was scared to come out about my status, DACA gave me a chance to come out of the shadows,” Garcia said. “DACA being removed will try to push undocumented folks back into the shadows.”
Gonzalez also said, contrary to popular discourse, that he does not blame his parents in any way for his status.
“I am a Dreamer and I am undocumented and I will never blame my parents for that,” Gonzalez explained.
An overarching theme of the speeches last night was the idea that Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants are not alone.
“I don’t even want anyone who is undocumented to feel alone. You’re not alone,” Marca Dominguez Salinas, another speaker at the event and Southern student, said.
Each speech was followed by the chant “(Speaker’s name) was a freedom fighter he/she taught us how to fight so we’re going to fight all day and night until we get it right.” The chant was followed by the call and response: “What side are you on my people?” “We’re on the freedom side.”
UConn’s Dean of Students, Elly Daugherty spoke at the rally, assuring students that their university stands behind them.
“You will not stand alone. Your state, your university and your Dean of Students is here and we’re not going anywhere,” Daugherty said.
The Undergraduate Student Government released a statement on Sept.17 stating their support for the undocumented community at UConn.
“These students, these Dreamers, deserve these opportunities. The University of Connecticut and the United States of America would simply not be the same without them,” the statement said.
“To undocumented students at UConn, please know that (USG) is here for you, working for you, and standing in solidarity with you and your families… (and) are committed to serving the interests of all students, regardless of their immigration status,” the statement said.
Steven Manicastri, the President of the Graduate Employee Union said he wants students to know the faculty is there to support them.
“We’re their teachers, we’re more than happy to listen and give a helping hand,” Manicastri said.
Joseline Tlacomulco, a fifth-semester political science and human rights double major, who acted as the emcee for the rally, spoke about her own experience in the aftermath of the DACA decision.
“I was this close to dropping out. What’s the point of continuing school if I can’t use my degree when I graduate?” Tlacomulco said, “My family told me to just hang on and that’s what I’m trying to do right now.”
Ruth Hernandez, a Sociology PhD candidate talked about the impact of not renewing DACA from the perspective of someone who has taught several of the students who gathered at the rally.
“When I think about what DACA can do, I think of the empty seats in the classroom,” Hernandez said.
Tlacomulco spoke about a fellow undocumented immigrant who was unable to be with her on the day the decision was announced: Eric Cruz-Lopez.
Cruz-Lopez, one of the organizers of the Resist Trump rally last November, was arrested in May for over 100 counts of vandalism.
“He did a really stupid thing last semester and now he’s at a huge risk for deportation,” Renato Calle, a class of 2017 economics major, said.
During the rally, a “Free Eric” petition urging the university to drop the charges against him and help protect his ability to remain in the country was passed through the crowd.
Kevin Zevallos, a graduate sociology student, urged people to actively challenge the powers trying to end the program.
“There’s no such thing as neutrality,” Zevallos said, “If you’re not actively challenging structures and laws, you’re working for the oppressor.”
At the end of the rally, as the street lamps finally turned on, Tlacomulo asked, “Where’s everyone else right now?”
George Morgan Jr., a political science and sociology major, said he wants those who attended the rally to mobilize.
“Take what you learned and heard and tell people,” Morgan said. “A chain reaction leads to change and change can lead to happiness for undocumented students and immigrants.”
Kiana Foster-Mauro, a third-semester pre-teaching major, said she came to rally to support members of the UConn community who could be impacted.
“I think it’s important to support those who have been a part of our community and should remain a part of our community and to defend their right to stay here and learn here,” Foster-Mauro said.
Mirella Fernandez, a fifth-semester physiology and neurobiology major, said she hoped the rally would help dispel misconceptions many people have about undocumented immigrants.
“There’s a lot of bad information going around (among) people who don’t support DACA,” Fernandez said, “It’s important to understand what DACA is and that we’re not taking money from anyone.”
Ryan Corcoran, a teacher at Windham High School, attended in order to better understand how to help DACA students in his classes.
“Students have confided in me before that they’re undocumented and I’d like to learn more and support them,” Corcoran said.
Matthew Byanyima, a fifth-semester economics major said he hopes the university does more for its undocumented students.
“I think they (UConn) need to show more support. It’s not enough to just release statements,” Byanyima said.
Tlacomulo said she was pleased with how the rally went.
“It went the way I wanted it to,” Tlacomulo said. “I appreciate the people who came out and especially those who stayed for the whole event.”
The rally closed with Tlacomulo leading the crowd in another group chant, declaring: “I am undocumented and I am unafraid.”
Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @ZarraAnna.