Amalia Montes was 15 when she and her 11-year-old sister illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in 2007. For two weeks the girls, guided by smugglers contracted by her family, wandered Arizona’s rugged border terrain. Montes, now 26, said what she saw and experienced — starvation, injury and the deaths of three young companions — are a testament to what she and her family endured to live in America.
That sacrifice, she said, is overlooked with President Trump’s decision Tuesday to end deferred action for childhood arrivals, or DACA, the federal policy giving undocumented immigrants like her a temporary reprieve from deportation.
DACA’s demise sent political shock waves across the North Coast and the rest of the country, drawing criticism from so-called dreamers themselves, their advocates and supporters, business groups, school officials, health care organizations, and local, state and federal lawmakers.
“(The politicians in Washington) have no idea what we went through,” Montes, of Santa Rosa, said, speaking in Spanish. “It made me grow up fast. It made me appreciate all that my family, especially my mother, went through to bring us here and I think it’s one of the reasons why I value this country. “Some of my friends are scared; they say they don’t want to go to school or work. For me, it’s not so much fear but the feeling of impotence, that there’s nothing I can do about this.”
DACA shields from deportation certain young people brought to the United States illegally by their parents. The protection was temporary and required renewal every two years.
Trump said DACA protections would be phased out over six months, leaving the plight of dreamers in the hands of Congress. Only dreamers whose DACA is set to expire by March 5, 2018 would be given until Oct. 5 to reapply for a final two-year renewal. The federal government will not accept any new DACA applications as of Tuesday.
“He didn’t have to do what he did on DACA,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. “These are kids that came here as babies … They’re doing everything right, they’re productive, they’re inspirations. That’s why you’re seeing the pushback. Major companies throughout the country are saying they’re going to stand with their dreamer employees. They are as American as anybody.”
Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting that the board does not agree with many elements of Trump’s agenda, particularly when it “targets and scapegoats our immigrant populations.”
Steve Herrington, superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education, said there are an estimated 2,500 undocumented students enrolled in K-12 in Sonoma County.
In anticipation of the DACA repeal, he sent an email last week to school district superintendents across the county, warning them of the anxiety and confusion it would create for students, and attaching a letter for district officials to share with teachers, students and parents.
There are roughly 800,000 current DACA recipients in the United States, one-quarter of them in California, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In Sonoma County, there were an estimated 6,000 youth eligible for DACA as of last year, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Under Obama’s DACA policy, dreamers were granted work permits and given Social Security numbers, and discretion was used to temporarily defer deportation of an undocumented immigrant. DACA did not grant lawful status.