DREAM Act petition walk to Peterson slated for Wednesday

MARSHALL — Leaders from the Marshall area will be delivering a powerful message when they march to Congressman Collin Peterson’s local office on Wednesday

The message is that they support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and want to see Congress pass a clean DREAM Act.

“The walk is important to me because we need Congressman Collin Peterson to support a clean DREAM Act that not only benefits us, as DACA recipients, but our families as well,” said Selene Antunez, Club Latino member at Southwest Minnesota State University. “We want to show him and his office that we are here to stay. We deserve to be here because we contribute to our communities, by doing community service, paying taxes and supporting our community members when they are in need.”

The DREAM Act is a bipartisan bill currently before Congress that would grant permanent residency and path to citizenship through higher education, military service or employment.

As the deadline to pass the DREAM Act approaches, the 800,000 DACA recipients are left in limbo, not knowing if they’ll be ripped away from their homes, families, friends, universities and jobs.

“Some of us came to this country at a really young age and we haven’t been back to our countries — countries that we don’t even know,” Antunez said.

Congress has until March 2018 to pass a legislative fix or something equivalent to DACA.

“When my DACA expires, I will be out of a job immediately,” Marshall resident Marly Wagner said. “I won’t be able to continue working with my students or continue any type of normality in my life. When my DACA expires, it means I might have to say goodbye to my family.”

Former president Barack Obama instituted the DACA program in 2010, helping to protect the nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally.

The Lyon County DFL and Club Latino sponsored a community forum on Nov. 14, giving people a chance to share stories and support each other. Soon after, Club Latino members began circulating a petition in support of a clean DREAM Act in response to President Donald Trump’s decision in September to end the DACA program.

“I was extremely impressed with the people who stayed after the community forum to actually try and plan something concrete to make a difference,” Marshall Area Peace Seekers (MAPS) co-chair Darwin Dyce said. “Club Latino, along with some community members, has especially taken the initiative to plan the rally and walk to Peterson’s office to present the petitions to him.”

Residents of the Marshall area, including members of Club Latino and MAPS as well as other DREAMers and allies, plan to peacefully march to Peterson’s office to deliver the petition — signed by bipartisan Marshall-area residents — and urge him to fulfill his commitment to representing the values of his constituents by supporting the DREAM Act.

“There are a lot of people who don’t even know what DACA is or who DREAMers are,” Dyce said. “They don’t even realize there’s some of them in our community. But I haven’t been turned down by anyone yet (regarding the petition).”

Dyce said the event will include time for people to share narratives about what the cost of deportation has on families.

“Imagine what it would be like to come home from school and all of a sudden, one or both of your parents are gone,” he said. “Or maybe it’s an older brother or sister that took care of you. What does that do to you? Kids are extremely frightened right now because they know it could happen. It just seems so wrong.”

Dyce said the DACA recipients are not criminals like some people might be led to believe.

“Even under the Obama administration and their effort on the whole immigration system, if there were violent criminals, those people were given priority to be sent back,” Dyce said. “Certainly, there are so many people not in that category and sadly, what has happened is that (the Trump administration) has given the go-ahead for anybody. So someone who might get stopped for having a taillight out or not having a seatbelt on, they could end up being deported.”

Dyce added that contrary to what a lot of people might think, DACA recipients contribute to society.

“These are kids who are paying for their own education because they’re not eligible for financial aid, they’re working and they’re paying taxes,” he said. “I think it’s just a convenient way to turn away from somebody in need, to justify doing nothing. They think (the DACA recipients) must have done something wrong. But it’s just one of the myths our president perpetuates.”

A clean DREAM Act would create a pathway to U.S. citizenship without using young immigrants — people who came to America as children and know no other home — as political bargaining chips. By clean, advocates mean no strings attached to other issues, such as funding for a border wall and increased border security as well as funding for more detention centers.

According to the National Immigration Law Center, the DREAM Act could provide a solution for more than 2.1 million immigrant youth and young adults who came to the U.S as children but have no pathway to citizenship. Qualifying applicants would first qualify for conditional permanent residence (CPR) status. They would have to work, join the military, earn a higher education degree or meet a hardship exception. After eight years and after meeting these and other requirements, they would obtain lawful permanent resident (LPR) status.

After five years in LPR status, they’d be eligible to apply for U.S. Citizenship, though DACA recipients would be on a faster track toward citizenship.

“I give a lot of credit to Club Latino for their efforts,” Dyce said. “Some of them are juggling a lot. One of the people is in graduate school — she’s working and taking classes — and she’s also pregnant and trying to help organize this event. It’s intense, especially knowing that it’s a real possibility that when DACA sunsets — unless Congress has the DREAMers Act put together in a good way — she could be gone.”

Anyone interested in marching peacefully is welcome to participate. Organizers ask that people meet at 12:15 p.m. at the SMSU Religious Center (1418 Birch St. in Marshall). People can bring signs and have the opportunity to sign the petition if they choose. The march will end at Peterson’s office at the Market Street Mall.

“I think it’s really important for everyone,” Antunez said. “While DACA affects 800,000 people, the clean DREAM Act should be important to everyone.”