The 'Dreamer' That Made A Pro-DACA Protest Outside Trump Tower Fall Almost Silent

“It’s like you’re waiting for a storm to hit, and then it hits you."

A crowd of protesters fell nearly silent outside Trump Tower on Tuesday as Hector Martinez told them that tears had been rolling down his face all morning.

Martinez, a 26-year-old born in Colombia, had been brought to America as a child and for many years lived in fear of deportation. But he, like 800,000 other immigrants, found refuge when President Barack Obama instituted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that protected undocumented immigrants brought to the United States when they were younger than 16 from deportation.



But on Tuesday morning, the Trump administration — through Attorney General Jeff Sessions — announced that DACA would be rescinded in the coming months.

"It's like you're waiting for a storm to hit, and then it hits you," Martinez told A Plus outside Trump Tower. "I'm here not only fighting for myself but for all of my other 800,000 undocumented people, and to stand for human dignity."

Hector Martinez spoke to a crowd of protesters outside Trump Tower.
Hector Martinez spoke to a crowd of protesters outside Trump Tower. Isaac Saul / A Plus

The White House's announcement that it will give Congress six months to draft a new immigration law is sure to draw the ire of Republicans and Democrats alike. While the constitutionality of DACA is yet to be seriously challenged in court, the policy is supported by a handful of big name Republicans and every sitting Democratic senator. Trump's decision to drop immigration reform into Congress' lap while members wrestle with Harvey relief, the debt ceiling, a looming government shutdown, tax reform and the threat of North Korea is not expected to please many politicians.

In many senses, it's easy to see why DACA enjoys widespread support: the policy has been hugely successful. A 2017 study conducted by the University of California San Diego and associated immigration organizations surveyed over 3,000 DACA recipients across 46 states. 97 percent of respondents were employed or enrolled in school: two outcomes that would be far more difficult without the existence of DACA.

Previous research also found that DACA recipients now contribute as much as $460.3 billion to the United States GDP annually. On top of that, the threat of losing DACA status if you have a criminal record has kept DACA recipients almost entirely out of legal trouble. Just 848 of the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients had their status revoked or terminated due to crime in 2016. By comparison, the violent crime rate in the United States was about 372 per 100,000 people in 2015, or three and half times the total crime rate of DACA recipients.

Another DACA recipient addressed a crowd of protestors.
Another DACA recipient addressed a crowd of protestors. Isaac Saul / A Plus

Martinez is himself a DACA success story. He graduated high school in the top quarter in his class but couldn't accept scholarship money before DACA because he didn't have a Social Security number. Once DACA was instituted, he came to New York City to study and is now a marketing development associate studying pre-medicine because he wants to go into neuroscience.

"That's the American dream," he said. "It's the ability to be in a place where you can create something out of nothing… I work in the city. I pay taxes. I buy food. I support my local grocery shop."

As for what's next? Martinez told A Plus that he's scared. DACA was never meant to be a long-term solution, so the power has always rested in Congress's hands to pass comprehensive immigration reform. But this news puts a timetable on that legislative process, and could leave DACA recipients once again without legal status at the end of six months, which would mean they'd be at risk of deportation or imprisonment simply for being on U.S. soil.

Even more unsettling for supporters of DACA is the reality that the entire reason for its existence in the first place was that Congress couldn't pass an immigration bill and the so-called "Dreamers" were at risk of deportation. Alex Garcia, an American citizen originally from Guatemala, came up from New Jersey for the protest. Garcia said that DACA didn't bother him at all, despite the popular belief it is derided by immigrants who came here legally.

Isaac Saul / A Plus
Isaac Saul / A Plus

"The DACA recipients have been here for many years; they really wait," Garcia said. "They [Congress] have to change the system. It's kind of stupid to blame the people who are already here... Congress has to do their job."

So far, the backlash over the announcement has been swift. Along with the protests outside Trump Tower, which resulted in more than 30 DACA recipients being arrested, President Obama made a rare public statement, writing "to target hopeful young strivers who grew up here is wrong, because they've done nothing wrong." Microsoft released a statement saying Congress should take up immigration reform before a much-anticipated tax reform bill. A wave of students walked out of  Denver classes in protest, images of which quickly went viral on Twitter.

But the announcement has also appeased hardliners on immigration, who have long maintained that Obama's executive order to institute DACA was unconstitutional and a presidential overreach. 

We asked Martinez if he had a message for those Americans who cheered the news of DACA's forthcoming conclusion.

"You may think that we're very different, but we stand on the same earth, stare at the same sky. We're not different from each other," he said. "We see each other so separate, and kind of pitted against each other, but we're not really competing for different things. We just want to live."

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