Five Years Into DACA Program, Washington 'Dreamers' Rally To Keep Legal Protections

Aug 16, 2017

Young undocumented immigrants are fighting to keep legal protections they gained under the Obama administration.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, shields some immigrants brought here as children from deportation.

The Trump administration is under pressure to end the program.

Ten attorneys general from Republican-leaning states have threatened to sue the administration if it doesn't agree by Sept. 5 to phase out the protections.

DACA covers about 800,000 young undocumented immigrants nationwide, including nearly 20,000 in Washington State.

Guillermo Mogollan, a political science student at the University of Washington, said he sometimes imagines his life without the program.

"I wouldn't have the ability to have a job," he said. "I wouldn't have the ability to just access these spaces that I have the ability to access now. My life would be so different." 

Nearly 200 DACA recipients and supporters marched from Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood to the Chinatown-International District on Tuesday. It was the fifth anniversary of the day so-called “Dreamers” could first apply for the program.

Some said the 2012 executive order creating DACA changed the course of their lives.

Take Kamau Chege.

“I’m from Nairobi, Kenya. That’s where I was born," Chege said. "I lived there until I was six years old. My father moved to the United States to study. He was a member of the clergy.”

His family lived in Tacoma. Chege says, growing up, he didn’t quite understand what it meant to be undocumented.

 

That is, until it came time to graduate from Tacoma’s Stadium High School.

 

“I used to be part of the junior ROTC program," he said, referring to the Reserve Officer Training Corps. "And I was trying to get an ROTC scholarship."

 

But he found out he wasn’t eligible because of his undocumented status.

 

Chege did make it to college. He studies accounting at Whitworth University in Spokane. He says DACA has allowed him to work on campus and even help out his parents with rent.

 

“And that’s what DACA’s all about," he said. "Just allowing people who are here already to fully contribute when we’ve already been doing that.”

 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is leading the effort to end the program. In a June 29 letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Paxton called DACA "unlawful," saying it "unilaterally confers eligibility for work authorization and lawful presence without any statutory authorization from Congress."

 

Twenty other state attorneys general, including Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, wrote to President Donald Trump on July 21 urging him to maintain the DACA protections. 

 

Chege says it’s not just about saving a program, but about who gets to define what it means to be American.

 

“We are going to define America and American for ourselves," he said. "And we’re not going to allow it to be defined for us, for Donald Trump to say this person is American and this person isn’t, to say that this person is deserving and this person isn't."