Undocumented immigrants and their supporters yelled, “Shame!” in front of the White House and got arrested in front of Trump Tower in New York City on Tuesday as the Trump administration said it would end an Obama-era program that has shielded nearly 800,000 young people from deportation.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, saying the program was unconstitutional but giving lawmakers in Congress six months to pass legislation to help undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as young children.
A Republican coalition had threatened to challenge DACA in court if President Trump did not act by Tuesday to rescind it.
Hundreds gathered outside the White House in the hours before Sessions’s announcement. They chanted sang, clanged cymbals and banged on drums, holding signs that said, “We are America,” “Congress! Don’t wimp out!” and “We want education, down with deportation.”
“This president lied to the community. For many months, he said, ‘I love the Dreamers.’ He lied to us, we cannot trust him,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, an immigration advocacy organization. “We are going to keep fighting, we are going to keep registering people to vote. We are going to win elections in Virginia this year. We are going to win the elections in 2018 and 2020.”
Shortly after 11 a.m., as Sessions was making his widely anticipated announcement a few blocks away at the Department of Justice, the crowd grew quiet.
“It’s right now official,” Torres told them. “… This administration just ended DACA.”
A woman sobbed.
“Oh my god,” someone said.
“Shame!” came the chant.
“You are not alone,” someone said.
Then they prayed.
In Manhattan, about a dozen protestors blocked traffic on 5th Avenue, near Trump Tower. They sat in the street, arms locked. After about 10 minutes NY police began warning that they would be arrested if they did not leave voluntarily.
Erika Andiola, 30, from Mexico was among those who was taken into custody without incident. A DACA recipient, she has been in United States since she was 10. She said that the undocumented community has come out of the shadows through DACA, and was not going back.
“Trump is trying to scare us into hiding, to get us to back down,” she said. “We’re not going to back down.”
President Barack Obama’s initiative cleared the way for young undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses and jobs, and to more easily afford college.
But critics, including Trump and Sessions, say Obama overstepped his authority in creating DACA, making an end run around Congress after it failed to pass legislation that would have offered immigrants similar protections.
Opponents of DACA say it wrongly skirts U.S. border restrictions and opens up to undocumented immigrants jobs that should be reserved for legal residents.
“DACA was an unconstitutional abuse of executive authority by President Obama,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “As President Obama stated when he implemented DACA, there were no guarantees that the program would continue after he left office.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump vowed to end DACA “immediately.” But he later wavered and said he would treat the young beneficiaries “with heart.”
In June, Texas and several other states urged Trump to end DACA and threatened to take him to court if he didn’t.
The states, which had mounted a successful legal challenge in federal court to a similar program that would have benefited the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and green-card holders, have until Tuesday to amend that lawsuit to include DACA.
After Sessions’s announcement, scores of protesters left the White House and headed for the Department of Justice. They loudly jeered and booed as they marched in front of the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, then sat down a block away in the middle of the intersection, in front of the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Yes we can,” they chanted in English and Spanish.
Rebecca Ruiz, a 56 year old who works in housekeeping, came from Pittsburgh to march for her son, a 24-year-old DACA recipient, who she brought from Mexico City when he was 12.
The young man now has a good job at a bank and speaks better English than Spanish, Ruiz said. She described herself as “scared and sad” for both her son and the country they now call home.
“Mexico is now bad and dangerous, I came here looking for a better life for me and my family. That is why we’re here.,” Ruiz said. “This is my son’s home.”
Belem Orozco, 26, arrived in the United States from Mexico when she was 7. She is now a DACA recipient and says she was not surprised by the president’s decision.
“I’m taking this as motivation,” Orozco said. “If the President thinks this announcement is going to make us go away, it’s going to do the opposite.”
The protesters turned onto 10th Street and marched directly under Sessions’s office window at the corner of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
They waved flags and carried signs that said, “Defend Dreamers,” “Undocumented, Unafraid. No Tenemos Miedo” and “Justicia Y Dignidad Para Los Immigrantes” and “Stop Deportations.”
“I believe America is a land of immigrants. Most of us are,” said one of the marchers, Kathryn Johnston, 68, who lives in Washington. especially open our arms to the children who have grown up here. They are Americans in every sense of the word.”
Earlier, at Trinity Lutheran Church on 4th Street NW, immigrants and activists prepared for a four-day fast to protest the elimination of DACA by eating breakfast quesadillas and drinking kale smoothies. Several said they were stunned that Trump had made Sessions his messenger.
Trump “doesn’t have the guts to confront immigrant youth on this,” said Sheridan Aguirre, 23, field communications manager with United We Dream and a DACA recipient who was brought from Mexico when he was a year old.
Sessions, he continued, has “been anti-immigrant his entire career. It’s really sickening for him to come out and make the announcement.”
Organizers from Mexico, Alabama, Massachusetts and other states vowed to push for a action in Congress to protect DACA recipients and other young immigrants.
Among the 28 people planning to fast was Fernanda Herrera, 22, an aspiring law student from Alabama who crossed the border from Mexico with her mother before her third birthday.
Alabama is one of only two states that bars undocumented students from attending public universities. So Herrera attended the private Samford University in Birmingham, majoring in international relations and relying on scholarship money and what she earned on her own to pay tuition.
Her DACA work permit expires in December, 2018. She had a car accident in August that left her with a broken pelvis and mounting medical bills. She does not have health insurance.
“I have student loans to pay,” Herrera said. “I don´t know how I´m going to do it.”
Sari Horwitz in Washington and Renae Merle in New York contributed to this story.