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Hundreds of New Mexico students ‘walk out’ over DACA decision

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Roughly a thousand New Mexico students, immigrant leaders and supporters protested the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program today.

NM Dream Team, an organization that advocates for the roughly 8,000 New Mexico youth who benefit from DACA, organized walkouts at the University of New Mexico, Central New Mexico Community College and nine high schools across Albuquerque. Others took place around the state.

A large rally kicked off at 4 p.m. in Downtown’s Civic Plaza.

Gabriela Hernandez, NM Dream Team executive director, said she about 500 high school students participated in the walkouts.

“They are fighting for their rights and fighting for their families,” Hernandez said. “They are smart, they’re strong and they’re empowered, and I can’t wait to see them grow even bigger and better.”

At Rio Grande High, over 200 students left class at 1 p.m. and marched down Arenal Road to the Westside Community Center.

DACA is intensely personal for many of them.

Alexis Najera, 17, has been working at a McDonald’s to help his family and save for college, thanks to a DACA work permit.

The Rio Grande senior, who came to the United States when he was 4 years old, would like to become a mechanical engineer, but he worries about the future.

“That’s my dream right now,” Najera said. “I’m not sure if it’s going to happen.”

Najera marched holding a sign with a simple message: “Here to Stay.” He said the strong turnout gave him hope.

“We are doing this as a whole community,” Najera added.

Evelyn Vidal, 16, one of the students who organized the walkout, was emotional about the threat of “families being destroyed” by the Trump administration’s policy changes.

Some of her relatives are enrolled in DACA and “have that fear of being taken away,” Vidal said.

One of her aunts is afraid to answer the door if the police knock.

“It’s sad that the United States has gone to this,” Vidal said. “It’s just not Ok.”

Hernandez said NM Dream Team will not give up on DACA.

“This fight is a marathon,” she said.

Hernandez is also a Dreamer — she crossed the border from Mexico when she was 7 years old and suffered through her father’s deportation when she was 15 years old. Now 25, Hernandez hasn’t seen her father in a decade.

“The separation of family, I lived it,” Hernandez said. “It’s tough to see family deported.”

Hernandez said the student protesters gave her joy and inspiration.

Volcano Vista High, South Valley Academy, Albuquerque High, Atrisco Heritage Academy, West Mesa High, Highland High, Del Norte High and Manzano High also participated in the walkout.

Albuquerque Public Schools posted a Facebook message this morning supporting students’ right to organize but asking that they remain in class until the end of the school day. Students who attended the high school walkouts received an unexcused absence.

“We cannot be responsible for the safety and security of students who choose to leave campus,” the APS message states. “While we are concerned about students walking long distances on busy streets and roads to participate in the protest, we will not provide transportation or chaperones to monitor students during the walk or rally.”

APS recommended that students attend the Civic Plaza rally, which is scheduled after class time, organize a petition drive or write a letter to lawmakers.

Johanna King, APS spokeswoman, said the district understands that many students feel passionate about immigration issues, but “students should be in school during the school day.”

Various immigrant rights organizations also denounced the president’s actions.

“Immigrant parents arrived to this country to provide a better future for our families, and our worst nightmare is seeing our children being stripped of their rights as a consequence of racist anti-immigrant policies,” Norma Dorado, mother of a Dreamer and a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos, said in a statement.

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