“Hey, Congress, don’t wait. Now is time to legislate,” rang out as marchers walked along Santa Fe Drive in Merced County on Friday to bring awareness to the plight of young immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally.
Called Dreamers, they were brought to the country when they were children and have no clear path to citizenship, advocates said.
Alejandro Garcia, who graduated from Livingston High School in 2013, was among the marchers, whom he said were mostly students at California State University, Stanislaus. The 22-year-old said he hoped the march would educate the community and put pressure on state officials.
Garcia was 10 months old when his family brought him to Merced County from Zamora, Michoacan, Mexico.
“I’ve been here for 21 years, my whole life. And I’ve never gone back to Mexico,” he said. “All I really know is the Central Valley.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in September there would be an unspecified “wind down period,” which was meant to give Congress some time to come up with a potential replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. No replacement has yet to be put in place.
Garcia, an accounting major, said he wants to be able to finish school and get a job in the region. Those in the U.S. under the DACA program are allowed to work or go to school, but it is only a temporary solution.
“This summer my permit expired. I had a job, (but) I had to let it go,” he said.
The ending of the DACA program will affect more than 750,000 young people who have obtained work permits through DACA to either study or hold a job. The permits last two years and were renewable. Under Trump’s new plan, once a Dreamer’s work permit expires, that person will be eligible for deportation, effectively phasing out the program by 2019.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, has expressed support for fixing the “broken” immigration system for people protected by DACA. Marchers on Friday said they want Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, to do the same.
About two dozen marchers walked a route in Merced County once used by Cesar Chavez, the civil rights leader who spoke out for farm laborers. They left Merced and ended up in Livingston on Friday.
Garcia said he hopes the march will remind citizens that undocumented immigrants may be their neighbors and co-workers.
Two more marches are planned during the long Veterans Day weekend with destinations in Turlock and Modesto, Garcia said.
Congress should pass a “fair and compassionate” immigration reform bill, according to Melissa Santos, regional coordinator of Mi Familia Vota, a Latino advocacy group.
“If the Dream act passes there will still be over 8 million immigrants in the shadows, unable to apply for any type immigration relief,” she said. “We will do all that we can to ensure that our representatives are listening to us and understand that the fight continues.”
The undocumented population in California is significant with about 200,000 young people who came here illegally.
A rally with the marchers is planned 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Columbia Park on High and Farr Streets in Turlock. Another rally is Sunday in Modesto.