Impromptu Berkeley rally draws 150 students, others against DACA decision

Cal students and others blasted President Donald Trump’s decision to end a program protecting undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as kids.

Protesters rallied in Sproul Plaza against President Trump’s decision to end DACA, in Berkeley, on Tuesday, Sept. 5. Photo: David Yee ©2017

About 150 students and others gathered at UC Berkeley on Tuesday evening for an “emergency rally” against President Donald Trump’s decision to end the program shielding some who immigrated to the United States as children from deportation.

The demonstration was one of several protests that sprung up throughout the Bay Area following Attorney General Jeff Session’s morning announcement that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will be phased out in six months. Around 800,000 young people have received protection through program, which allows people brought to the U.S. when they were younger than 16, and who are currently in school or graduated from high school, to stay here and work. More than 200,000 of them live in California.

Organized by the local activist group By Any Means Necessary — and facilitated by its controversial organizer Yvette Felarca — the 5 p.m. rally quickly drew a varied crowd to Sproul Plaza. Community members and students gave short, impassioned speeches, and the crowd sung along to a protest song with the political band Occupella. The group embarked on a short march along Telegraph Avenue, by residence halls, and back around to Sproul Plaza, while police quickly closed off the streets around them.

UC Berkeley junior Karen: “This is the face of a Dreamer.” Karen came to the U.S. when she was a year old. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

UC Berkeley junior Karen, who did not want to give her last name, said she was stunned to come back from a Labor Day weekend trip to find out she could be eligible for deportation. Her parents brought her to California from Indonesia when she was one year old, and she has never lived anywhere else.

“This is all I know, and for the government to view me as ‘the other’ is sad,” she said after the rally. “My friends are here, my family is here.”

Once Karen’s DACA paperwork was in order a few years ago, “I knew the first thing I had to do was go to school,” she said. “Finally a door had been opened.” She enrolled in community college in San Francisco, and transferred this year to Cal. Trying to focus on class under the looming threat of deportation is a challenge, she and others at the rally said.

“Anyone who’s been accepted to UC Berkeley knows that journey alone is a rigorous challenge. It makes it so much harder to be pulled apart from everything I’ve worked hard for,” she said.

Karen was among a number of students who stumbled on the rally while walking to or from class. Many said they were there to support their undocumented classmates.

Students and community members marched on Telegraph Avenue Sept. 5 to protest the announcement that the DACA program would end in six months. Photo: Ted Friedman

“All of us go to school with kids who will be affected,” said freshman Alexis Diaz.

Earlier in the day, three UC Berkeley administrators, including new Chancellor Carol Christ, had put out a joint statement blasting Trump’s decision. The university, which has an Undocumented Students Program, has enrolled thousands of DACA “Dreamers,” according to the statement.

“DACA has given these individuals some respite from the specter of deportation, allowed them to obtain work permits and driver’s licenses, and has increased college access by opening up pathways to state and private financial aid,” the administrators wrote.

Berkeley Unified Superintendent Donald Evans and School Board President Ty Alper also released a statement condemning the phase-out of DACA and provided a list of immigration resources Tuesday.

“Even if Congress does act to protect DACA in the coming months, the President’s action has caused pain and anguish in our community and across our nation,” their letter said.

Many at the rally pledged to spend the six-month window organizing to protect Dreamers.

“Now that we have six months, we can’t stay quiet,” said an undocumented UC Berkeley freshman, addressing the crowd.

Elsewhere in Berkeley, a smaller group of protesters on the I-80 bike bridge unfurled banners proclaiming “We love Dreamers” and “Defend DACA.”

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously a reporter for Berkeleyside.