The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was passed in 2012 to prevent the deportation of immigrants who came to the United States as children without documents.

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About 50 people gathered outside the local U.S. Justice Department building on the corner of Second and Chestnut street Tuesday to protest the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA.

Several DACA recipients, people who know others affected by the program, and general supporters attended the event, which was organized by Juntos, a Latinx community organization based on Washington Avenue.

Anel Mata Medina, 26, a DACA recipient who spoke outside of the Justice Department building, graduated in 2015 and is now a registered nurse at Chester County Hospital-Penn Medicine.

“I think it’s important for [the government] to know that DACA recipients are everywhere,” she said, “They need to know our stories. We’re contributing to the economy, we’re contributing to our community, and we’re contributing to health care.”

Per the Pew Research Center, an estimated 790,000 immigrants have been granted two-year periods of legal status through DACA since former President Barack Obama signed an executive action in 2012.

Medina, who arrived from Mexico City when she was 5 years old, was one of several dozen people marching to the Federal Detention Center at Seventh and Arch streets. As the group began the trek, President Donald Trump released a statement ordering an end to DACA and suggesting Congress replace it with legislation before March of next year.  U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions followed up with a statement saying new DACA applications will not be accepted as of today, per the New York Times.

“Sometimes we need adversity in our face to really come through and get encouraged,” said Medina about the news.

“Here we are, and here we stay, Credit: Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

Despite the possible end of DACA, the crowd chanted the whole time and several people held up signs in support of the program. Yared Portillo, a former Juntos staff member, led several chants while occasionally playing her jarana, a mexican guitar.

“El pueblo vive,” she shouted. (English translation: The community lives.)

“La lucha sigue,” shouted back the crowd. (English translation: The fight continues.)

Maria Castañeda (right), a DACA recipient and student at Swarthmore, holds a microphone for Yared Portillo (left). During the march, Portillo chanted and played the jarana, an instrument native to the Mexican state of Veracruz. “I’m here to keep fighting alongside my community. The fight doesn’t stop, the fight started well before this, Credit: Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

“Nuestros ninos tiene un sueño grande de estudiar, de ser alguien en la vida,” dijo Elena Diaz, una mamá de dos DACA recipientes y dos otros niños. “Quedarse ellos sin ninguna ayuda es como que sus sueños mueren.”

(English translation: “Our children have a big dream of studying and becoming someone in life,” said Elena Diaz, a mom of two DACA recipients and two other children. “Leaving them without any help is like their dreams dying.”)

Diaz, 55, también dijo que nuestros hijos son el futuro y por consequencia queremos que los apoyen, especialmente el presidente. Diaz y su familia vinieron a él Estados Unidos de México hace veinte años.

(English translation: Diaz, 55, also said our children are the future, therefore we want them to be supported, especially by the president. Diaz and her familia came to the United States from Mexico 20 years ago.)

Another DACA recipient, Sergio, 26, who requested Billy Penn withhold his last name, said he came to defend DACA because it’s the American thing to do. He arrived in the U.S. from Mexico when he was 14 years old.

“[DACA] really helped me and changed my life,” he said, “I don’t live in fear. I can drive, go places, ask for stuff.”

“I’ll be going back into the shadows not having a job to be able to support my two children who were born here,” said Prudence Powell, a DACA recipient from North Philly.

Powell, 34, has to renew her legal status this January. She’s been a DACA recipient since 2014. She grew up in Jamaica, and came to the United States when she was 12 years old.

Protesters of all ages and ethnicities gathered in Old City Tuesday to protest President Trump’s halting of DACA. Credit: Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

Many of the people who attended the event came to stand and march for those affected by the end of DACA. Mark DeCarlo, 68, from Havertown, PA, said he needed to show his support for the “DREAMers” who were being treated unfairly.

“My parents were born in Italy,” he said, “they came here legally. But we’re a country of immigrants. I know i’m an old white guy, but this is just so important to me.”

On Tuesday, protesters gathered at a “Take Down Sessions, Defend DACA! Credit: Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

Francisco Zavala Cortes, 26, North Philly, said the program serves many people in the queer Latino/a community and the entire Latino/a community.

“We need to stand with everyone,” Cortes said. “If DACA is missing, it’s going to be a big toll on our community.”

Janet Barnes, a retired Philadelphia School District teacher from Delaware County, said she has taught so many young people of all different ethnic backgrounds — all of them are just striving to be the best they can.

“We need to have our congressman and senators stand up for all of the people of the United States,” Barnes, 71, said, “Until they do we’re going to be out there protesting.”

Janet Barnes, a 71-year-old resident from Delaware County, holds a sign at a march in Old City to defend DACA. Credit: Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

The time it takes to legally immigrate to the U.S. through an application process can vary from months to decades, depending on which category applicants fall in and which country they’re from. Here’s a breakdown of the categories. Per NPR, close to 4 million applicants are on a backlog, which ends up being about a 20-year wait.

“I don’t think anybody has 20 or 30 years to spare to wait,” Sergio said. “I’m in school, i’m working, i’m contributing to the country.”

Erika Almiron (left) of the Latinx community group Juntos holds a microphone for a DACA supporter. On Tuesday, Juntos organized a march in which participants walked to the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center to protest the halting of DACA.

Before the march, the protest was MC’d by Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos. Here’s a full list of speakers from the event:

  • Rev. Robin Hynicka – Reverend of Arch St United Methodist Church
  • Olivia Vazquez – Juntos Organizer and DACA recipient
  • Maria Castañeda – DACA recipient and student at Swarthmore
  • Anel Medina – DACA recipient from Kennet Square
  • Helen Gym – Councilwoman At Large of Philadelphia
  • Maria Quinonez Sanchez – Councilwoman from North Philly
  • Chris Rabb – State Representative
  • Larry Krasner – Democratic Candidate for District Attorney
  • Mark Squilla – Councilman from South Philly
  • Elena Diaz – Mother of DACA recipients
  • Jerry Jordan – President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
  • Maria Sotomayor – Deputy Director of PICC (Pennsylvania Immigrant & Citizenship Coalition)