HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — We are halfway through the six-month time period President Trump gave Congress to pass legislation after he rescinded the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. The program is meant to protect the country's 800,000 DACA recipients from being deported.
The DACA program requires people (born on or after June 16, 1981) to come to the U.S. before age 16. They must have continuously lived in the US since June 15, 2007; must currently being in school or an honorably discharged military veteran; must have a clean criminal record; and not have lawful immigration status. The program was an executive order by former President Barack Obama and would allow the recipients, known as DREAMers, to apply for temporary work permits, social security numbers and protection from deportation. The status was to be renewed every two years.
With President Trump's decision to end DACA, it leaves the immigration status of thousands uncertain, including in Harrisonburg.
There are about 12,000 DREAMers (the term used to describe people protected by DACA, which was instituted through the DREAM Act) in the commonwealth of Virginia. In addition, Harrisonburg has previously been listed among some of the most affected places nationwide under President Trump's proposed travel ban, due to the Friendly City's immigrant population.
Harrisonburg's chapter of Virginia Organizing held a rally on Wednesday afternoon calling for action. It started at City Hall, where participants played music and heard from two JMU students who are protected under DACA. The group then walked to Congressman Bob Goodlatte's office.
Goodlatte is a member of the Immigration Working Group appointed by Speaker Paul Ryan to address the DACA program.
One student, Diego F. Salinas said his DACA will run out five months after he graduates from college. He encouraged the community to put pressure on local government.
"We believe the American dream isn't dead," said Salinas. "We believe that this country was founded by immigrants, this country is improved by immigrants, this country is about diversity, and love and acceptance. It's terrifying, because this is the only home I know."
"My home is in Harrisonburg, this is where I live, this is where my roots are," he continued.
Another senior at JMU, Micaela Escuedero, who is covered by DACA, said the United States has become her home.
"I believe I'm American in every way, the only thing that's missing is my immigration status, and I just feel very American, and I want to stay here and I want to keep contributing."
From the streets of Harrisonburg to Washington D.C., talks about DACA are continuing. On Wednesday, Senator Tim Kaine asked Congress to come together to find a permanent solution for Dreamers.
"We need to do this. These families are law-abiding, tax paying, hard working, setting examples kind of families," said Senator Kaine.
Congress has until March to come up with a solution for the DACA program.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Goodlatte responded to WHSV's request for comment with the following statement from the congressman:
“President Trump has called on Congress to address this issue the right way through legislation. However, we cannot fix the DACA problem without fixing all of the issues that led to the underlying problem of illegal immigration in the first place. Our immigration system is broken due to decades of lax enforcement. The House Judiciary Committee will continue to aggressively pursue the enactment of our immigration enforcement agenda so that our laws are enforced, we prevent illegal immigration, and the rule of law is restored.”