Sandra Tovar’s reaction to President Donald Trump’s move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was a social media post aimed at rallying allies for young immigrants.
“Let’s Break The Internet With Love and Support For DACA #DEFENDDACA,” reads a message stripped across the top of her Facebook page.
Tovar’s message was similar in tone and spirit to many that were shared on social media on Tuesday, as DACA recipients — also known as “Dreamers” — pushed past their melancholy and vowed to organize for the next political fight and push Congress for immigration reform.
“I am worth being here,” said Tovar, a graduate of Fort Worth’s North Side High School and Texas A&M. “I am worth being safe and secure. They can take my work permit, but they will never be able to take away who I am, and that includes my education, my knowledge and my deep roots.”
Tovar, 30, is a longtime supporter of immigration reform who works as a medical interpreter thanks to the program launched in 2012. DACA allows young immigrants who were brought to the country without legal status to gain work permits and driver’s licenses.
She is one of an estimated 124,300 Texas residents — and 7,700 in Tarrant County — who have been approved for the rolling program, according to the the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Migration Policy Institute.
Another is Jessica Ramirez, who has lived in the United States more than half her life, coming to Fort Worth from Mexico City with her family at the age of 14.
But it wasn’t until four years ago, when she enrolled in DACA, that Ramirez, now 31, finally felt comfortable here.
“It gave me the courage to come out, like today,” Ramirez said late Tuesday afternoon during a Fort Worth protest of Trump’s announcement. “Before, a lot of us were afraid to come out. But for me, [DACA] gave me the security to come out and say, ‘We are here and we want to do nothing but contribute to the country.’ ”
Ramirez was one of about 30 people who had gathered at U.S. Rep. Kay Granger’s Fort Worth office, hoping to inform the lawmaker of their concerns over the DACA rollback.
Earlier Tuesday, Granger said that “now is the time for Congress to work together to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution.”
The protesters congregated on the sidewalk along University Drive before marching through the parking lot and into the office building, but Granger’s staff was gone for the day.
So they marched back into the parking lot, shouting, “Down with deportation! Up with education!”
Ramirez said she’s a stay-at-home mother but has attended classes at Tarrant County College and hopes to return to school soon. She wants to obtain a degree in psychology.
Now, she’s unsure if she’ll get that chance.
Her DACA license, which has to be renewed every two years, expires in December. She applied for renewal in March and paid the $495 fee, she said, but she hasn’t heard a response.
With the plan to end DACA, she wonders if she ever will.
“I just think it is very unfair that people think we are not worthy of being here,” Ramirez said. “Because we are. A lot of us love this country, love it like we were born here. It’s our home.”
‘Still targeted as criminals’
Tovar’s journey as a Dreamer has led her to protests, rallies and voter registration drives. For months, Tovar has been worried about the future of her family and friends under Trump’s immigration plans.
Tovar, who has been in the United States since she was 13, was at work Tuesday when news broke that Dreamers would no longer have protections after six months. The announcement from the Trump administration also punted immigration reform to Congress.
Tovar still has hope.
“Hope because we have been there before and we are strong and resilient enough to fight for the justice we deserve and we have been working for,” Tovar said. “Anger and sadness to realize that no matter how hard we try, how hard we work, how far we go and how much we can accomplish, we are still targeted as criminals and people that ‘take’ when it is completely the opposite.”
José Manuel Santoyo, a 25-year-old graduate from Southern Methodist University, said DACA allowed him the opportunity to earn degrees in human rights and Spanish.
“It was a beautiful journey for me,” said Santoyo, who delivered a commencement speech at his graduation from SMU in December. His family left Mexico when he was 8, desperate to escape violence by Mexican drug cartels.
Santoyo said allies of the self-proclaimed “DACAmented” will push for an inclusive immigration bill that allows a path for citizenship.
‘They are American kids’
Support for Dreamers was widespread, both at the statewide and local level.
Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, used the floods unleashed by Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area to drive home her point.
“... Texas’s Dreamers were victims of the flood, first responders to the flood, and at least one — Alonso Guillen of Lufkin — was a volunteer who gave his life to rescue his fellow Texans from the flood,” Burke said in a news release. “But rather than heed Harvey’s hard-taught lessons of unity and solidarity, Gov. Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and President Trump have chosen to sow chaos, uncertainty, and division into our communities. We call on Congress to pass a standalone bipartisan Dream Act and preserve our nation’s best traditions from the cruel and cynical forces that brought about the end of the DACA program.”
State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, said he “will continue to fight for the Dreamers, as DACA has served to make our country stronger and more prosperous.”
Tony Pompa, a former school board member in the Arlington school district, said he was disappointed by lawmakers’ inability to find a permanent solution to the plight of DACA youth. Pompa is a businessman whose family brought him to the United States without a legal status when he was 11. He said the DACA situation affects young people in Arlington.
“They are being primarily used as the demonizing face of immigration,” he said. “They are American kids.”
Staff writer Ryan Osborne contributed to this report.