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ACTION FOR OUR DREAMERS

Rafael Martinez speaks Monday at Action For Our DREAMERS, A Community Response to the State of DACA press conference at Centro Hispano of Dane County in Madison.

PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

March 5 was the original expiration date for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers legal protection for immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.

The policy, established by President Barack Obama's administration in 2012, didn’t actually end on Monday, due to a legal challenge working its way through the court system. That protects DACA recipients from deportation for now, but continues the months of stress and fear that comes with their uncertain future.

“Today is a tough day for us. In my mind, it’s a shameful day,” said Karen Menendez Coller, executive director of Madison's Centro Hispano. “For our community it has become the perennial waiting game as elected leaders think, wait and defer yet again on making an equitable decision regarding immigration.”

They, and their advocates, are anxious for action. At a press conference at Centro Hispano on Monday, local Latino and city leaders, including Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, gathered to garner support for an issue they say should have been resolved months ago.

“Know that deadlines such as today are forever tattooed in my heart, because they represent yet another symbol of lack of proper advocacy and support by those in power for the Latino community, which I love,” Coller said.

The event at Centro was one of many nationwide rallies, marches and vigils marking what Coller called the “symbolic end” of DACA. Advocates marched to the U.S. Capitol on Monday and Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights organization, organized a rally at U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Racine office.

Coller said the thousands of DACA recipients “remain in limbo,” which leads to unbearable anxiety and stress. There are over 700,000 DACA recipients across the nation including an estimated minimum of 7,600 in Wisconsin.

DACA was created by former President Barack Obama through an executive action and protects immigrants who entered the country without documentation as children. Last fall, President Donald Trump announced he would gradually end the program.

Originally, recipients with permits that expired after March 5 would not be able to renew them. That gave Congress six months to pass legislation to reinstate the program.

That’s been complicated by Trump’s insistence that a DACA deal come with funding for a border wall and changes to legal immigration, and no legislation has been passed.

“It baffles me that nothing's been done,” Coller said. “It makes me feel like, will something ever get done and will we ever have an answer for these young people? And that’s unfair. It’s inhumane.”

Alondra Quechol, a DACA recipient and Madison College student, talked about the stress that comes with the uncertainty of her status.

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”I haven't been able to focus in school,” Quechol said. “I’m good at math, I'm good at all these things, but it’s just not sinking in.”

Quechol and Rafael Martinez, a DACA recipient and UW-Madison student, talked about the difficulties already facing DACA recipients, who are not eligible for most scholarships. Martinez works three jobs to scrape by, he said. On top of this stress is the chance that their legal stauts could be taken away. 

“You feel incredibly powerless,” Coller said. “You never know what will happen tomorrow.”

Soglin said legal representation in a deportation proceeding drastically increases an immigrant's chances of staying in the county. Madison and Dane County need “a renewed effort to commit to the legal protections to the proceedings” in the next year, he said. In response to a question he said there was “no question” that he would act as Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf did and warn constituents about impending ICE raids.

He also pointed to Monday's Marquette Law poll, which showed broad support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He called on Ryan, a Janesville Republican, to listen to his constituents and “not the extremists in his party who have held this matter up.”

Coller invited the community to stay connected with Centro Hispano and join in on the efforts calling for DACA legislation.

“I just want to say we're never going to get tired of sharing these stories,” Coller said. “We are committed to doing anything and everything to ensure that their hope is never lost and that their families keep thinking of this American country as their own.”