Trump’s immigration decision brings protesters to downtown Lawrence

About 150 people participated Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, in a march downtown in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The line of marchers stretched the length of the block.

As they proceeded along Massachusetts Street, they alternated among chants such as “People are not illegal” and “Here to stay.”

Lacee Roe was one of those at the front of the group, holding a bright yellow banner printed with multicolored butterflies and the words “Lawrence, KS, Protects Dreamers.”

At one point, the protesters chanted “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.”

Roe was one of about 150 people who participated in the Lawrence Defends DACA Solidarity March Thursday, which was held in support of an Obama-era program that has allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children — commonly called “dreamers” — to obtain work permits and protection from deportation. President Donald Trump announced this week he would phase out the program.

Mayor Leslie Soden speaks at the Lawrence Defends DACA Solidarity March, held Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, in downtown Lawrence.

In addition to the chants, the marchers held signs stenciled with “Defend DACA” or “Protect dreamers.” At times, people sitting at sidewalk tables applauded as the marchers passed, while some motorists honked or cheered.

For Roe, who is Filipino-American, DACA is an issue that goes beyond the dreamers and beyond immigration policy.

“Racism is definitely very much at the core of this issue,” Roe said. “There are a lot of misunderstandings and stereotypes that people have about others who are different from them. So that’s why I showed up.”

Orlando Martinez was another among the group. He wore a black T-shirt printed with “We are all immigrants.” Martinez said he was there to show his support for the many people he knows affected by the DACA decision.

“When I first heard the news, my first response was pretty emotional,” Martinez said. “Even though I wasn’t directly affected, it affected people that I know, people I grew up with and people that I’m close with. It became a personal issue for me.”

It was also an issue for Connie Fitzpatrick, one of the organizers of the event. Fitzpatrick said her hope was to unite people affected by the DACA announcement and show them community support.

“To show that even though the Trump administration will do what they do, here in Lawrence we support DACA and our immigrants,” said Fitzpatrick, who noted that she’d also like to see the local government show support officially in some way. “To show that we can gather and work together here locally, despite what happens in D.C.”

The program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was launched in 2012 by an executive order. Since then, an estimated 800,000 young undocumented immigrants have obtained work permits under the program, including nearly 7,000 in Kansas.

The march ended just east of downtown, where Fitzpatrick and others shared information over a PA about locations to receive counseling about DACA and renewal deadlines.

Among the crowd was Mayor Leslie Soden, and before the microphone was turned off, she also commented on the local impact of the DACA announcement. Soden told those gathered that the dreamers are neighbors, friends and members of the community who have been hurt by the recent actions on DACA.

“Treating them as less than human is an attitude I cannot ignore,” Soden said.

Tania Sosa, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico two years before she was born, said she has three friends who are part of DACA. She said she wants people in their situation to be able to study and work in the U.S.

“DACA wasn’t perfect, but it was a sense of hope for these immigrants,” Sosa said.

The DACA program stopped accepting applications Tuesday, and members of the Trump administration have said Congress will have six months to address the issue through legislation. Some critics of DACA say the program was unconstitutionally enacted, and it’s unclear whether Congress will choose to take up the issue.