Vivian Garcia Cruz said she no longer wants to live in “the shadows.”
The 18-year-old stood in Kiener Plaza Tuesday night to share her story before a crowd of dozens of people.
“I came here when I was 3,” she said into a loud speaker.
Garcia Cruz told the crowd how her family migrated from Mexico when she was a small child. Like the 800,000 other children brought to the U.S. by their family members, illegally as children, she is now a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
The program, first established under President Obama, allowed her to attend school and work, without fear of deportation.This week, President Trump decided to rescind that program and gave Congress six months to find an immigration reform solution.
Now, young people like Garcia Cruz could face deportation. She chose to speak out, rather than hide.
“And finally it’s just time that I have to come out of the shadows,” she said. “I have to do it for myself and I have to do it for younger Latina girls that may be in the exact situation as I am.”
“Our community will continue to stand up and continue to make sure our voices are heard that our families need to stay together and that everyone deserves respect and dignity, and that that’s what has to come first,” said Sara John, with the St. Louis Interfaith Community on Latin America.
“Our communities have been living in chaos for months, if not years. DACA has never been a permanent solution,” she added. “So we have been waiting and working and urging Congress to do their job for years, and they haven’t done it.”
Steve Legomsky is a professor emeritus at Washington University’s School of Law. He also served as Chief Counsel of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service under President Obama.
“DACA was rolled out in 2012 by president Obama,” Legomsky explained. “The idea was, there was only limited resources available for immigration enforcement, and one of the lowest priority for deportation would be people who were brought here as children. And the average DACA recipient was only six years old when he or she arrived. [They had] lived here for a long time, and the average DACA recipient person now has lived here about 20 years.”
He continued, “For them, what President Obama said was, ‘I don’t have the power to grant you legal status, but we will grant you a reprieve from deportation for two years, and during that period you will be allowed to work in order to support yourself.’”
Legomsky said Dreamers had to trust the government in order to enter the DACA program.
“The scary thing for many of these folks is, in order to get DACA, they have to give the government all kinds of information on their whereabouts, their information and so on,” he explained.
“The Obama administration promised that they would not use the information on the DACA application to go after them for deportation, unless they were criminals or pose a national security threat. But now the government has that information and the Trump administration is not bound by that declaration.”
The future of DACA will be decided by Congress.
On Tuesday, lawmakers from Illinois and Missouri responded to President Trump’s announcement.
“Many of President Obama's critics, mainly Republicans, objected to the fact that this was done by the executive branch. They all say -- this would be fine if it was done by Congress,” Legomsky explained. "Now the ball is in their court. Now it is up to them, in Congress, to decide whether to continue the program and we’ll have to see what their response is.”