Topeka About two dozen people rallied Friday at the Kansas Statehouse in support of a President Barack Obama-era policy that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children — a group often referred to as "Dreamers" — to remain in the country and obtain work permits.
The rally came just a few days before a Sept. 5 deadline that Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and nine other state attorneys general have set for the Trump administration to repeal before they file a federal lawsuit challenging the legality of that policy.
"I want to tell our attorney general, shame on you," said Lupe Magdaleno, executive director of Sunflower Community Action in Wichita, which helped organize the rally.
The policy in question is known as DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
It allows such individuals to apply for permission to stay in the United States for a period of two years if they meet certain qualifications, including not having been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and if they do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
That policy has been in place since 2012. Since then, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 6,803 Kansas residents have received initial DACA permits to remain in the country, and 5,647 have received a two-year renewal permit.
Two years after the program was adopted, however, the Obama administration expanded it and added a new one, DAPA, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, a program that allowed an estimated 4 million additional undocumented immigrants to receive deferred action status if they had children who were born in the U.S. and were therefore American citizens.
Both DAPA and the expanded DACA program were blocked from going into effect by a federal judge in Texas, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to lift that judge's injunction. The Obama administration then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which deadlocked in a 4-4 ruling that effectively left the injunction in place.
"If DACA did get taken away, unfortunately my life would be turned upside down," said Fernanda Alonso-Hernandez, an 18-year-old undocumented immigrant whose parents brought her to the United States when she was 2.
She currently holds a DACA permit. She recently graduated from high school in Wichita and is now attending Butler Community College.
"I would have to compromise my life decisions because DACA (would be) taken away," she said. "With DACA, I have so many opportunities. I have a role in society, I can work for my family and get an education. Therefore if it got taken away, I would have to compromise. I wouldn't have work. Going to school would be much harder due to the expenses. We don't receive a lot of scholarships because there's not a scholarship available for DACA recipients, so everything is out-of-pocket."
On June 29, Schmidt signed on with nine other Republican state attorneys general, led by Texas A.G. Ken Paxton, in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging the Trump administration to rescind DACA by Sept. 5.
The 10 attorneys general are many of the same attorneys general who signed on to the original lawsuit challenging DAPA and the expanded DACA program.
Schmidt was invited to speak at the rally, but he did not attend. In a statement emailed to the Journal-World, he defended his action.
“President Obama did a great disservice to many sincere and caring people by making promises that no president has the legal authority to keep," he said. "The problem with DACA is that it is unlawful; under our Constitution, only Congress, not the President, has the power to change immigration law. Those who understandably feel strongly that the law should accommodate children brought to the U.S. at a young age and raised here would be well-advised to focus on persuading Congress to act.”
Another Kansas official who spoke out on the issue Friday was Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration and a Republican candidate for governor. He spent much of the day appearing on national cable TV news shows, often distorting the exact legal status of the DACA and DAPA programs.
"The legal question isn't even a close one," he said on the Fox News Channel's morning program "Fox and Friends." "You've already had multiple courts say that a similar amnesty came a few years after DACA was completely illegal. This one's illegal. It violates three different federal laws. It violates the United States Constitution. It's a loser."
A few hours later, during an appearance on MSNBC, Kobach argued that DACA was allowing "gangbangers" to remain in the country legally.
"So what happens is, a lot of gangbangers get arrested, but the state won't have the resources to prosecute all of them and so they are released," Kobach said. "It used to be, before DACA, the local county sheriff would release them to (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in hopes that ICE would deport them. But we have many cases of such individuals who are getting the DACA amnesty. They've been arrested, they haven't yet been convicted, but that arrest isn't enough to disqualify them from DACA."
Back at the rally, another Dreamer named Mayra Diaz talked about growing up in Wichita, not knowing that she was undocumented. She had been brought to the U.S. at age 4 and was enrolled in a high school ROTC program with dreams of one day joining the U.S. Marine Corps.
One day, at age 15, she was selected to serve on a sword detail at a Marine Corps ball. She brought the paperwork and a permission slip home for her mother to sign, and that's when her mother informed Mayra that she couldn't attend because she was undocumented.
"My whole life, I was part of this country, part of this community," she said. "I did everything my friends did. I did community service, I attended everything that my school had. So for a 15-year-old to hear that you're unable to follow your dream because you're undocumented was a big shock."
The rally was organized by Reps. Louis Ruiz, of Kansas City, Kan., and John Alcala, of Topeka, both Democrats and both descendants of Mexican immigrants who came to the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century.
Also attending was House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, a Democratic candidate for governor.
"I'm not surprised that our secretary of state, Kris Kobach, is what he is and continues to do what he does. I had more hope for our attorney general," Ward said. "Our attorney general has always presented himself as a reasonable person, and the letter he signed off (on) of legalistic jargon avoids the moral question of what's right for Kansas families."