Hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the White House plans to rescind the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, nearly a thousand Yale students and New Haven residents took to the streets to voice their support for the DACA recipients — young undocumented immigrants who came into the country as minors — impacted by the government’s action.
Co-organized by the Yale Women’s Center and MEChA de Yale, the demonstration kicked off as Yalies marched from Cross Campus to the First and Summerfield Methodist Church, banding forces with New Haven activists on the church steps. Amidst waves of chants and applause, ralliers heard from speakers ranging from undocumented students at Yale to local immigrant rights advocates. Though President Donald Trump had previously expressed support for the program’s continuation, Tuesday’s decision officially sets off a six-month grace period in which Congress can enact new legislation for early arrivals or end the program entirely.
Standing in defiance of Trump’s order to discontinue DACA, Jesus Morales Sanchez, an organizer with the local activist group Unidad Latina en Acción, called on the demonstrators to stand up for their community at this challenging time.
“New Haven and Yale, there seems to be a divide sometimes,” Sanchez said. “But it honestly makes me happy to see you here. It’s nice that the two [communities] are coming together for one common purpose — justice.”
He asked that Yale students continue to stand with the immigrant community, not just DACA recipients but all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States — including Marco Antonio Reyes, an undocumented Ecuadorian currently seeking shelter in the church.
Sanchez also asked attendees to call their elected officials and reinforce their support for New Haven as a sanctuary city.
Ramon Garibaldo Valdez GRD ’22, proudly declaring that he is “undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic,” reminded the crowd that DACA was the result of rigorous lobbying and activism from the would-be DACA recipients, rather than just “spoils of the Obama administration.” Concurring with Sanchez’s speech, Valdez said DACA is far from perfect as thousands of undocumented residents who don’t qualify for the protection program still live in fear and uncertainty.
“It was the minimum that any administration could give, but it let 800,000 people out of the shadow,” he said.
Yale students also shared their stories and struggles with the U.S. immigration system at the rally.
Carlos Rodriguez ’21, for example, told the crowd that he is undocumented and that he was brought to the U.S. at the age of six months. The U.S. is the only home he has ever known, he said, and not knowing what the federal government plans to do is frightening.
“One piece of paper does not show who you are as a person, it does not define your humanity,” Rodriguez said.
Still, Rodriguez said he feels privileged to live in a city and attend an institution where officials have promised to protect undocumented residents. He reminded the crowd that not all states are as supportive of immigrants as Connecticut and asked that attendees stand up for immigrants across the country.
Reaching beyond simply a protest against Trump’s policy reversal, the rally participants also heard from two brothers, Jason and Eric Ramos, who spoke of the fate that their parents are currently facing as immigration authorities rejected their pleas to stay in the country. Set to be deported on Sept. 29, the Ramos’ parents came to America 24 years ago and worked as law-abiding citizens to support their sons, one of whom is 17 and the other in his early 20s.
“I am livid that this is what it takes to bring people together,” Jason Ramos said as many demonstrators wiped away tears. “This is a systematic attack on every immigrant no matter where they are in line for immigration. This is cruelty.”
Mojique Tyler ’20 told the crowd that they must step up if Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials attempt to deport community members. Tyler asked that students put their bodies on the lines by standing in front of ICE vans if they come to take away New Haven residents, including Yalies.
School administrators, such as Yale College Dean Marvin Chun, and several heads of college also attended the rally, a presence appreciated by members of the student body who were also present. Muriel Wang ’20, calling these campus figures “role models,” said she was happy to see administrators who can affect change show their commitment.
Earlier in the day, University President Peter Salovey condemned Trump’s decision in an email to the Yale community in which he called the decision “deeply disappointing” and vowed to defend undocumented students at Yale. His email came on the heels of a letter he wrote last week to the White House urging Trump to defend DACA.
In Tuesday’s email, Salovey outlined the resources available to Yale’s undocumented students, including legal support from the University, updates on the latest news from the Office of International Students and Scholars and newly adjusted financial aid packages for students who might have lost their DACA work authorization. He also noted that Yale admits students without regard to immigration status and that the Yale Police Department does not inquire about the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses or anyone else seeking police assistance.
“For the students affected by this order, I want you to know unequivocally that Yale stands with you,” Salovey wrote. “You are an integral part of our community, and we remain committed to protecting your welfare and ensuring that you are able to participate fully in university life.”
The Yale College Council similarly addressed the Yale community in an email Tuesday night. Though the YCC did not explicitly condemn the decision, it reinforced that all Yalies impacted by the decision belong at Yale and that the YCC will “work to defend your rights and opportunities as members of our shared community.” The statement noted the council will ensure that mental health resources are available to those who need them and will monitor financial aid policy changes to make sure all students can continue to afford their education.
In his own email to the student body Wednesday afternoon, Chun announced that he will host a talk Wednesday evening as a platform for students to voice their concerns.