Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Nearly 2,000 New Mexicans joined in the national chorus, angry and hurt over President Donald Trump’s Tuesday announcement signaling the end of certain legal protections for people brought to the U.S. as children without immigration documents.
Immigrant rights organizers and those affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program targeted by Trump launched events throughout the day Tuesday at schools and public spaces across the state.
College students in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe held rallies and paraded around campuses leading chants against Trump and his announcement, via Attorney General Jeff Sessions, targeting the DACA program.
“Today’s decision was really messed up,” said Hector Aveldano, DACA recipient and a leader of New Mexico Dreamers in Action, the rally’s organizing group.
Speaking at a rally at Santa Fe Community College, Aveldano said recipients are “here to stay.”
Though the college does not keep track of how many students are enrolled in DACA, President Randy Grissom said he estimates there are several hundred undocumented students attending the “sanctuary campus” who are eligible for in-state tuition. The college supported the walkout, and staff and faculty members also participated.
Staff and faculty members also supported protests at the University of New Mexico, where two of the highest-ranking administrators made it clear Tuesday that the young immigrants should be able to stay.
Interim President Chaouki Abdallah told several hundred people the university was still trying to understand exactly how Trump’s decision would affect the UNM community.
But he stressed the school was working with other universities and leaders at the local, state and national level to push Congress to act to preserve the protections.
“The University of New Mexico supports DACA students – supports everyone who is on this campus,” Abdallah said to loud cheers. “Thank you so much for what you’re doing. And we’re with you.”
Paul Roth, chancellor of UNM’s Health Sciences Center, echoed those sentiments.
“The country needs you; our population in New Mexico needs you. We firmly stand behind your efforts,” he said.
Gabriela Hernandez, New Mexico Dream Team executive director, said early estimates noted about 500 high school students participated in walkouts.
“They are fighting for their rights and fighting for their families,” said Hernandez, whose group helped organize protests across the state. “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 in Albuquerque, more than 200 students left class at 1 p.m. and marched down Arenal Road to the Westside Community Center.
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.
Albuquerque Public Schools posted a Facebook message Tuesday 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 unexcused absences.
At 4 p.m., protesters gathered at Civic Plaza in Albuquerque. At its peak, the rally numbered about 700 people holding signs advocating love and acceptance of immigrants while television news station helicopters circled overhead.
“This is my home,” one young woman told the crowd. “I grew up here. And I’m here to stay. I want to be here.”
In southern New Mexico, dozens of students from Gadsden High School joined a statewide walkout and rally for “immigrant justice.” About 60 students marched across N.M. 28 down a rural road flanked by cotton fields and pecan trees. Some Doña Ana Community College students also joined the walkout.
In Las Cruces, about 200 students participated in a walkout at New Mexico State University.
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican, called on Congress to act to protect those affected by the DACA reversal.
“It’s the right thing to do for Dreamers, for our community and for our country,” Berry said.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s spokesman said President Barack Obama’s unilateral action created a problem.
“That being said, it is wrong to punish these children, and this demands congressional action. No president has the authority to unilaterally decide immigration law, and this sadly demonstrates the human consequences,” said Joseph Cueto, Martinez’s spokesman. “These children deserve better, and that’s why Congress must act.”
Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester said Tuesday that the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA “is nothing less than cruel” and amounts to a betrayal of national values of fairness, opportunity and freedom.
“Sadly, with this decision, we are betraying these values, dimming the hopes of these young people, and because of it, are less as a nation,” Wester said in a statement. “To deport them to countries they do not know would be nothing less than cruel.”
Staff writers Michael Coleman, Angela Kocherga and Olivier Uyttebrouck contributed to this story.