Hundreds of students rally on campus in support of DACA

A diverse crowd of about 400 students, faculty and community members gathered at Sonoma State University Tuesday evening to protest President Donald J. Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields young immigrants from deportation.

“This is taking away people’s right to work, and their right to be free,” said Omar Santiago, a Sonoma State student, president of the Undocu-Scholars Coalition and one of the organizers of the rally. “As a DACA recipient, it helps me with employment, buying necessities, and getting a driver’s license so I can get to and from work.”

Santiago said his parents came here when he was 5 years old and for more than a decade he didn’t tell anybody he was undocumented. Yesterday he addressed hundreds about what it was like to live life undocumented. “You’re always looking over your shoulder,” he said. Many members of the protest and march that followed were undocumented students.

There are 800,000 young people protected by DACA in the U.S., and roughly 200 undocumented students at Sonoma State, according to Chief of Staff Bill Kidder. Not all undocumented students have applied for DACA.

“That may not seem like a lot, but it is a student identity that needs to be acknowledged,” said Melissa Vargas, president of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social on campus, an organization promoting the inclusion of Chicana, Latina, and Native American women. She said she helped organize the protest because “we felt our campus wasn’t addressing this issue.”

At one point during the protest, participants asked faculty and administration to raise their hands so students could see the support they had from campus staff. About one-third of the crowd raised their hands to cheers.

Along with Kidder, President Judy K. Sakaki was on hand for the event.

“We came out here to show support and solidarity for our undocumented students on this terrible day,” Kidder said.

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When Trump announced his decision, Sakaki sent out a campus-wide email stating her commitment to the success of all DACA students.

Gustavo Flores, the director of enrollment management at Sonoma State, addressed the crowd with both anger and sadness. “This decision hit me right in the core, because it is a cause I have chosen to fight for,” Flores said. “This isn’t a handout; we earned it. This is stopping the next doctor, teacher, or lawyer.” He stressed that DACA recipients give back and contribute to the United States economy.

The march, complete with signs, a megaphone and chants, wrapped around campus, gaining onlookers’ attention. Chants such as “What do we want? Immigration reform! When do we want it? Now!” or simply “Resist!” were repeated by the crowd.

Monica Cornejo, another DACA beneficiary and a Sonoma State alumna, said she was at the protest because “we are here, and we’re not going anywhere.” She immigrated at a young age and considers the United States home.

“Because of DACA, I was able to go to grad school. Without it, I might not be able to get my Ph.D, in communication studies like I hope to do,” she said.

The protest had the support of Sonoma State’s police department. “Myself and my team are here to support you in whatever you need,” David Dougherty, chief of police, said to the protest organizers beforehand.

There is more Sonoma State can do to help its undocumented students, Chicano and Latino Studies Associate Professor Daniel Malpica said. He said he believes the school should offer more scholarships because financial help is important.

He also said the turnout for the event excited him. “This is great. There are people from all walks of life here, showing support as a community for all those affected by this Trump administration,” Malpica said.

Wilson Hall, the Associated Students president, was in attendance along with many other members of student government. “This was done out of spite, and out of hate,” Hall said about Trump’s decision. “It’s nice to see people of different involvements come out and support our students.”