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Hundreds of Harvard affiliates and Cambridge residents gathered in front of Memorial Church Tuesday to protest President Donald Trump's decision to rescind protections for undocumented young people.
Hosted by student immigration advocacy group Act on a Dream, the “Fight for Immigrant Rights” rally featured student speakers from across the University affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or with undocumented family members. Chanting “up, up with liberation; down, down with deportation,” the crowd filled about three quarters of Tercentenary Theatre.
“DACA gave me a peace of mind that meant I didn’t have to worry about myself,” said Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ’20, a DACA recipient. “I could focus on worrying about my parents and the rest of my community, because I was safe.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday morning that the administration would end DACA, an Obama-era program that provides protection for children of undocumented immigrants, in six months. The program allows roughly 800,000 undocumented young people to remain and work in the United States.
For some speakers at the rally, the decision was personal. Bruno O. Villegas McCubbin ’19, a member of Act on a Dream, reflected on the sacrifices his immigrant parents had made to raise him in the United States.
“To [my mother] and my dad, DACA was an indication, one of the few indications, that they had ultimately done the right thing coming here and that all their sacrifices were worth it,” McCubbin said. “Now, it just feels like a huge step back.”
In an email to Harvard affiliates shortly after Sessions’ announcement, University President Drew G. Faust affirmed the University’s commitment to protecting its “DREAMers” and outlined a number of legal and counseling services for undocumented students. At the rally, Jason M. Corral—a staff attorney at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program—reiterated that undocumented students should take advantage of the resources available to them.
“This is not the end. Now we fight…now we need a permanent fix,” Corral said after the event. “I’m looking to talk to individuals that are concerned on a personal level to see if there is some kind of legal remedy that can go beyond DACA.”
Still, several speakers and attendees called on Harvard to go further and declare the University a “sanctuary campus.” Faust has previously refused to do so, citing concerns that the label would draw unwanted and dangerous attention to undocumented students while providing no legal protection.
“We would like to see that happen. We would like to see stronger protections, legal protections,” said Alec J. Fischthal ’21, who attended the rally.
Beyond the student body, speakers also called upon Harvard to take actions to protect faculty, workers, and their families.
“We must remember that it took a great amount of activist pressure to get DACA,” Veira-Ramirez said. “We must remember that people fought for it and risked deportation… so my activism doesn’t end because I will no longer be protected and yours shouldn’t either.”
As for Act on a Dream, its board—which has doubled in size since last year, according to co-director Daishi M. Tanaka ’18—plans to up its efforts reaching out to legislators through call-a-thons and canvassing.
“What’s next for us is fighting for immigrant rights as we usually do,” Tanaka said. “I think a lot of social justice organizations suffer from the problem of being too reactionary, but our mission has been the same from the start and it won’t change and we will continue to work.”
—Staff writer Alice S. Cheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @alicescheng.
—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.
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