“What do we want?” shouts UVA fourth-year Jacqueline Cortes in a red rain coat to a crowd of nearly 300 students and faculty members. “JUSTICE,” they echo. “When do we want it?” “NOW!”
“If we don’t get it…” she says, and they answer, “We shut it down!”
Cortes, a biology major and Spanish language minor, is a founder of DREAMers on Grounds, the university group that organized the occupation on the Garrett Hall steps September 6, a day after President Trump announced plans to rescind a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
DACA is an Obama administration immigration policy established in 2012 to allow certain undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors, such as Cortes, to be eligible for a work permit and deferred action from deportation.
The Alexandria resident came to America from Mexico when she was 9 years old.
“I didn’t know what borders meant,” Cortes says. “I didn’t know the law. But I’m not throwing my parents under the bus anymore. …They brought me here, and my sibling, when he was 3, because they wanted the best for us.”
After Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act (a process to grant undocumented immigrant minors citizenship) in 2010, she says the 2012 passing of DACA “wasn’t the answer—just a little, tiny Band-Aid to the huge problem.”
But even that has been taken away from her and the approximately 12,000 young people with DACA status in the state, according to Virginia Organizing.
“Now we have to go back to the shadows,” Cortes says. “Now we have to be scared again.”
The fourth-year student calls for permanent protection for all DREAMers and their families. Locally, Charlottesville-based nonprofit Sin Barreras is assisting those with DACA status.
Sin Barreras connects the local immigrant community to health, immigration, education and banking services. It also provides low-cost legal counseling and direct help to DACA children.
“Sometimes [undocumented people] are not as sensitive to what’s happening because they’ve struggled forever. They’ve had hard lives and these things happen,” says Edgar Lara, the nonprofit’s community engagement coordinator. “But something like this, it’s really hard. …They’re scared.”
He says locals with DACA status should connect with attorneys or accredited representatives immediately, and Sin Barreras can help them do that.
DACA holders are a real strength for the undocumented community because they’re Americanized, Lara adds.
“They have a voice,” he says. “And when they’re able to express themselves, it’s such a great thing. Too often, the undocumented community doesn’t have that voice because they don’t speak the language.”
Sin Barreras is putting on the September 16 Cville Sabroso Festival at Ix Art Park, which is Charlottesville’s annual Latin American music, dance, art and food celebration.
“It’s a difficult time, but coming together isn’t just about the struggle,” Lara says. “We need to come together and also celebrate so people see another side to this community.”