Protestors in Kansas City gathered in mass Tuesday to speak out against Attorney General’s Jeff Sessions’ announcement that a program for young people brought into the country illegally as children will be phased out.
Hundreds marched, sang and chanted near the J.C. Nichols Fountain in Mill Creek Park near the Country Club Plaza in defense of children of immigrants brought into the United States illegally.
The Barack Obama-era program known as DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — has kept hundreds of thousands of people safe from deportation, but Sessions said the executive order is unconstitutional.
Roughly 800,000 young immigrants have been protected by Obama’s 2012 deferred action program, which gives Dreamers the right to obtain work permits and attend college.
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Alex Martinez, a 26-year-old Dreamer from Kansas City, was born and raised in Mexico until age 14. He’s been in America since, gaining an education and finding steady employment.
Martinez fears being deported to a country he hardly knows.
“This is home,” Martinez said. “America is home. When people tell me to go back home, I tell them I am home. I have nowhere to go to.”
Lori Slettehaugh of Lenexa is a physical therapy instructor at Kansas City Kansas Community College. She said Dreamers deserve a chance — and protection — to remain in the country.
“Some of my students are Dreamers and they have graduated and they are employed and they get great paychecks and they buy...things to contribute to the economy,” Slettehaugh said.
She added Sessions’ announcement was “ridiculous.”
“I think it was heartless, cruel and economically ridiculous to turn back DACA,” Slettehaugh said.
Tunisia Finnell, 24, of Kansas City, attended the demonstration along with her 7-year-old daughter, Maliyah Henderson. Finnell, an African-American woman, said she has many Latino friends and wanted to show solidarity with them. She brought Maliyah along to introduce her to the process of a peaceful protest.
“She has a lot of friends that are actually struggling with deportation,” Finnell said. “So this really hit home for her.”
According to McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, hundreds of thousands of Dreamers will be allowed to renew their two-year work permits if they expire in the next six months. However, President Donald Trump’s administration will not accept any new applications for the program.
Those currently protected by the program will keep their special two-year status until their work permits expire. If their DACA status expires before March 5, they will have until Oct. 5 to apply for one more renewal, meaning Dreamers should be able to keep their status until 2019. Those whose protections expire after March 5 will lose their protected status.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, issued a statement earlier Tuesday applauding the decision to phase out the program.
“In our view, DACA was an unconstitutional abuse of executive authority by President Obama,” Stein said in the statement. “The winding down period announced today will not only give DACA recipients time to get their affairs in order, but also gives Congress a unique opportunity to reengage in the immigration debate.”
Martinez, whose protection ends in March, said the pending end of the program means the beginning of a fight for him. He plans to demonstrate and protest as much as he can in the meantime.
“I still have time,” Martinez said. “This is what I’m going to be doing for the next six months.”