The South Oval rang with the chants from the megaphone and the echoing crowd Friday as dozens of students and faculty marched toward Evans Hall.
“Undocumented, unafraid!” the marchers yelled. “It is our duty to fight for our freedom!”
The march and rally at the University of Oklahoma was just one of the “Home is Here” walkouts taking place across the country Friday. Organized nationally by United We Dream, the “Home is Here” school walkouts advocated for undocumented immigrants and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
The walkouts, which included multiple Oklahoma City-area high schools, came just four days before the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments about the future of the DACA program.
DACA, established in 2012 by an executive order from President Barack Obama's administration, grants renewable two-year deportation deferrals and work permits to young undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria. There are about 700,000 DACA recipients in the United States, and at least 6,000 in Oklahoma, according to June 2019 data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Multiple DACA recipients spoke up at Friday’s walkout, which ended in a rally at Evans Hall. OU marchers weren’t alone in Oklahoma — according to walkout organizers with Dream Action Oklahoma, Oklahoma was the state with the highest number of student bodies that walked out Friday.
“I didn’t find out myself I was undocumented until I was 16 years old,” said Taz Al-Michael, a DACA recipient and president of the College Democrats of Oklahoma. “...This story is not just about DACA recipients, this story is not just about Dreamers. This story is about all of us: the immigrant community, people of color.”
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that will determine whether President Donald Trump’s administration can legally end DACA.
The administration has been attempting to shut down the program for two years, halting new applications and renewals in fall 2017 with an intent to end DACA. The administration has argued that because Obama established DACA through executive action and without the consent of Congress, the program is illegal, and can also be ended through executive action.
While immigration policy can be a partisan issue, national studies have found that DACA is not. According to a 2018 poll from Gallup, 83% of Americans are in favor of finding a pathway to "allow immigrants, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, the chance to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements over a period of time.” Legislation that would allow routes to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants has fallen short of the necessary votes in Congress multiple times since the early 2000s.
"Majorities across all demographic, religious and educational groups favor granting permanent legal status to immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children,” a 2018 Pew Research study on immigration policy opinions notes.
The Trump administration’s actions to end DACA renewals have been challenged and struck down in multiple federal and appeals courts — for now, the government is still accepting renewals for people who already had DACA status.
Now, the Supreme Court will decide whether the DACA creation process was legal in the first place, whether other courts had the right to review the Trump administration’s actions, and whether the administration can now permanently end the program. While the court will hear arguments Nov. 12, the justices will likely take months to decide.
In the shadow of that uncertainty, the crowd at OU swelled to around 100 people, some of whom were DACA recipients and some of whom showed up in solidarity. Speakers told the crowd about their personal ties to DACA, and spoke about the importance of students using their rights to advocate for themselves and one another.
“I’m here because I’m directly affected by the state of DACA through family and friends, and that affects me,” OU student Sophia Cadena told the crowd. “I’m here because money is being made off of undocumented people by putting them in detention centers, and there’s only going to be more detention centers if we end DACA...I’m here to stop that, and speak out against that.”
Multiple DACA recipients who spoke noted that they’ve lived in the United States for most of their lives, and that this country and state are their home. According to DACA guidelines, recipients must have entered the U.S. before turning 16, and must have been in the U.S. since June 2007.
“I think the idea of home is so rooted in many of the families that are affected by a DACA decision..(for me) home has never been secure or it’s never been something that’s been planted firmly,” said Carlos Rubio, an OU senior and a DACA recipient. “I think ("Home is Here" is) a strong message because if we’re being present and visible in spaces like this and campuses across the United States, it kind of reaffirms that we’ve been here for years, we’ve been working, we’ve been doing well, but this is home.”
Rally organizers with Dream Action Oklahoma also told participants that they'd be providing resources for students who need to process or debrief on the feelings of the coming week.
The organization will offer a space in the Scholar's Room in the Oklahoma Memorial Union Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., open to students in need of support. Dream Action Oklahoma will also provide access to counseling through Goddard Counseling Center.
In the chants and speeches, in the signs and choked-up silences of Friday, there was also a message of resilience and humanity. "My community is somebody, and they deserve full equality — right here, right now," speakers and marchers shouted in a call and response toward the rally's end.
“For many years, our community, our immigrant community, has been silenced, for so long that the government is used to our silence,” said Kevin Palomino, an OU freshman and DACA recipient. “I am here because that has to stop. We’re not here because we don’t have a voice — we’re here because we have a voice. It’s 2019, they should already know that we’re not going to stop... I know that the people here have courage, we’re here for a reason, and that courage is going to make ripples across the country.”