Protesters show support for undocumented immigrants in Santa Rosa march

A large group of immigrants and their supporters marched through downtown Santa Rosa on Monday seeking permanent relief for undocumented immigrants.|

More than 1,500 immigrants and their supporters marched through downtown Santa Rosa on Monday as part of a national campaign calling on President Donald Trump and Congress to bring permanent relief to undocumented immigrants.

The march, which started at Santa Rosa Junior College, was held on the day the president had hoped to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA - an executive order under former President Barack Obama that granted temporary relief from deportation to those illegally brought to the United States as children.

But President Trump’s attempt to end the program, which affects about 800,000 people across the country and about 3,000 in Sonoma County, was halted by federal court rulings in January and February.

The Trump administration had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to bypass the appeals process and decide whether the lower courts could block his efforts to end the program. Trump has argued that the plight of DACA youth and other immigration relief should be taken up by Congress, not resolved through executive order.

“Because of the federal court decisions, people can keep renewing after today,” said Rich Coshnear, a local immigration attorney who heads Comité VIDA, a volunteer immigrant rights organization.

In response to court orders blocking Trump’s effort to end the program, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has resumed accepting DACA renewals, according to the USCIS website.

However, the agency will only accept DACA applications from people who were previously admitted into the 2-year-old program. It is not accepting applications from those who have never before participated in the program.

Monday’s march took demonstrators down Mendocino Avenue, between Santa Rosa Junior College and Old Courthouse Square. After a brief rally at the square, demonstrators marched east to the Shea Federal Building on Sonoma Avenue and D Street.

The protest was organized by Comité VIDA (Volunteer Immigrant Defense Action), MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán), the Peace & Justice Center of Sonoma County, North Bay Jobs with Justice and the Interfaith Council of Sonoma County.

SRJC students made up the bulk of participants, but they were joined by students from local high schools, including Santa Rosa High School and Roseland University Prep.

They carried signs that read, “Eduction Not Deportations,” “Immigrants Make America Great” and “Not Afraid to Dream.”

At the federal building, demonstrators recited a list of demands that included a call for a pathway to citizenship for ?11 million undocumented immigrants; a “Clean Dream Act” for DACA youth, free of funding increases for the president’s controversial border wall and stepped up enforcement; legal residency for all family members of naturalized citizens, and a reduction in current immigration backlogs.

Alexis Diaz Peña, 18, an SRJC student who hopes to study political science and film at San Jose State University, said his parents have been waiting decades, with few options, to legalize their status. Diaz, a ?natural-born U.S. citizen, said he hopes to obtain legal status for his parents once he turns 21.

“They decided that once I turn 21, I’ll just file the paperwork for them,” he said.

Diaz said Monday he was marching for immigrant rights and that he would do so even if he weren’t related to immigrants.

“Everyone should care because it’s just caring about humans,” he said. “If people want to make their lives better by crossing a border, they should have a right to do so. And if it’s a crime, I think we should change that.”

That allusion to voting for change was echoed during a bit of theater organizers held on the steps of the federal building. As a SRJC student read the list of demands, Coshnear’s wife, Kim Caldeway, pretended to be U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, responding with indifference to each request.

The skit provoked boos and jeers from the hundreds standing on D Street in front of the Shea Federal Building. The boos soon morphed into a repeated cry of “Vote her out! Vote her out!”

Then one speaker reminded the audience that Kevin de León, the state Senate’s Democratic leader, is running against Feinstein in her re-election bid.

Jazmin Gudiño, a SRJC political science student who plans to attend law school, said she was happy to see so many people turn out for the demonstration. Gudiño is a naturalized U.S. citizen with two older sisters who were deported about five years ago.

“It’s great to come out and march, but it’s also important to attack the injustices through legislation,” Gudiño said. “To do that, you have to get out and vote and get organized.”

Coshnear said another big issue affecting local immigrants is Trump’s effort to end Temporary Protected Status, a humanitarian relief program granted to foreign nationals seeking to escape man-made or natural disasters.

He said Sonoma County has a fairly large Salvadoran population who were allowed to stay in the United States to help the small nation recover from devastating earthquakes in early 2001.

Coshnear said that under the president’s effort to end TPS, those participating in the program would become undocumented immigrants after September 2019. Coshnear said he and other immigration advocates hope Congress can provide some relief to immigrants.

“But it’s going to take a lot of actions like these,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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