Hundreds in Petaluma protest DACA cut

Maura Espinoza was just 8 years old when she and her family took a trip from their native Mexico to Disneyland that would change her life.

When it was over, her family decided not to return south of the border, opting instead to pursue a better life in Petaluma. Espinoza applied herself in school, attended San Francisco State University and eventually, became a teacher.

Now, her dream of helping kids is threatened by the Trump administration’s decision to end the program that shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

She joined an estimated 250 others Sunday at a rally in her adopted hometown, protesting the elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

“I hope they can see we’re not a bunch of criminals,” said Espinoza, 24. “We’re working people and we’re here to make society grow.”

Carrying signs and chanting slogans, protesters marched beside the busy intersection of Petaluma Boulevard North and Washington Street, drawing supportive honks from passing motorists and more than a few thumbs up.

The group converged on St. Vincent de Paul Church just before parishioners poured from the Spanish-language Sunday Mass.

Co-organizer Paul Guerrero of Indivisible Petaluma rallied the crowd, calling on President Donald Trump to stop his attacks on immigrants doing important work in the military, protecting the public as police officers and educating young people as teachers.

“This administration has applied a systematic attack on immigrants,” Guerrero said. “And we are not OK with that.”

Some protesters identified themselves as DACA recipients whose ability to continue working was imperiled. Gilbert Mejia, 26, of Novato, who came from Guatemala when he was 2, feared he might not be able to continue his career as a behavioral specialist.

He carried as sign that read: “We might not run the country but we sure as hell make it run.”

“My biggest concern is we will be going back to ground zero,” Mejia said, “not being able to drive legally for fear of getting pulled over.”

Laura Benavidez, 28, of Novato, said she came to California from Guanajuato, Mexico, when she was 3. After graduating from college, she went on to a career as a social worker for Marin County.

Her employer has vowed to prevent her deportation, she said.

“Initially, I felt really angry (about Trump’s decision),” Benavidez said. They keep using us as pawns.”

Others said they were protesting to stick up for immigrant friends who have flourished under DACA. Brenda De Young, a kitchen manager at Petaluma’s Acre Coffee, said a friend in the program went on to become a Sonoma County paramedic.

“We’re so proud of him,” said De Young, who carried her Chihuahua, Dobby, in a backpack affixed with a sign supporting DACA. “It’s a precarious time.”

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