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DACA Recipients Rally In Durham

A few dozen young immigrants stood at the Central Carolina Bank Plaza in downtown Durham on Tuesday, carrying protest signs and shouting, "Undocumented, Unafraid." Surrounding the smaller group were hundreds who had gathered to support the former recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on the day President Trump announced the program would be rescinded.

The federal program offered work permits and social security numbers to undocumented people brought to the United States as children. The approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants who benefited from the program received limited documentation that allowed them to  get driver's licenses, legally work, and pursue higher education.

Proponents of the program say it helped open doors for young immigrants brought to the country at no choice of their own, and that it allowed them to contribute legally to the economy. Opponents say President Obama did not have the power to enforce the executive action, nor the legal standing to make the immigration reform in the first place.

Now the program recipients stand in limbo, awaiting for their worker's permits to expire, unless Congress takes action on broader immigration reform.

Marco Cervantes may be one of the last recipients to see his benefits expire. That's because he received approval for his DACA renewal just hours before the program was rescinded.  

Cervantes' parents brought him from Mexico as a baby, and he grew up in Chapel Hill.

"This is my home," Cervantes said. "I went Pre-K through graduating high school there. I'm currently at Durham Technical Community College pursuing an associate's in engineering."

He says he hopes to become a civil engineer specializing in water treatment. He'd like to work for OWASA to give back to Orange County. He told his story at the rally, along with many others.

Alejandra Lopez also spoke. She began by telling the crowd that she had rushed over after she got off work, where she heard the news that DACA was ending.

"It was a very surreal moment for me, because I've been very optimistic," said Lopez, a 21 year-old certified nursing assistant, who recently got into a nursing program. She was brought to North Carolina from Mexico when she was just under 5 years old. She says DACA allowed her to get a driver's license as a teenager and work to pay her way through school.

"I never thought that would happen," she said. "Then DACA came out, and well, the world is open to possibilities now ... and now the world is shut off again."

Lopez' DACA status is set to expire in October. She can only hope that will be enough time for a legislative response to allow her to keep working legally. 

Lopez and Cervantes both say they were encouraged to see so many people at the rally.

"I'm glad everyone came out here and listened, for the most part. We need people to listen more so that they can get a better understanding of what the situation in which we find ourselves is," Cervantes said.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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