About 400 people turned out Friday night for a rally at Portland City Hall to protest President Trump’s decision to end a program that protected people brought into this country illegally as children from being deported.

Organizers urged attendees – who endured unexpected rain, chanted “the people united will never be divided” and held signs that said things like: “Defend DACA,” “The American Dream Needs Dreamers,” and “Say No To Racism” – to call their congressional delegation and urge them to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for “dreamers,” who now live in fear of deportation.

Ifran Alam, a 21-year-old Muslim student from Pakistan, called on people who are not personally threatened by the Trump administration’s immigration policies to stand up for those who are.

“When your voice is ignored, it is hard to self-advocate. That is why in cases like this privilege is a responsibility,” said Alam, student body president at Bowdoin College, where he is a senior. “It is your responsibility to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves; to empower those who have been disempowered; and to speak up for those who have been silenced.”

The rally was organized by Hamdia Ahmed, a junior at the University of Southern Maine, and co-sponsored by the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition, Maine Womens Lobby and Progressive Portland, among others.

The rally is a reaction to Tuesday’s announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Trump administration would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in six months unless Congress passes a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes such protections.

Many consider the six-month phase-out of DACA an opportunity to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which was first introduced in 2001 but has repeatedly failed to get through Congress – most recently in 2012.

Zoe Sahlouo, a Lebanese immigrant and board chairperson of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition, urged Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for young people who had been covered by DACA.

Portland activist Hamdia Ahmed speaks at Friday’s rally at Portland City Hall in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

“Congress, we urge you and we need you to act to fix this mistake done by this administration,” Sahlouo said. “This action is a stark reminder that Congress has failed to pass positive and comprehensive immigration reform for far too long.”

OBAMA CALLS MOVE ‘CRUEL’

DACA was created through an executive order signed by President Obama in 2012 after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act. It allowed immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to apply for two-year, renewable work permits that let them live and work here without punishment.

In announcing the administration’s plans to cancel the program, Sessions described Obama’s action as unconstitutional and an overreach of executive authority.

The announcement was panned, not only by Democrats and immigrant advocates, but also religious groups and some Republicans. In his most lengthy statement since leaving the presidency, Obama called the decision to end the program “cruel,” because many of people affected were brought here as young children through no fault of their own, and may be completely unfamiliar with the country to which they would be deported.

Shortly after the announcement, Trump said that he would “revisit” the decision if Congress fails to act.

The Department of Homeland Security is no longer accepting new DACA applications. But anyone whose current permit expires before March 5 may apply for a two-year renewal by Oct. 5.

Ending the DACA program would affect about 800,000 people nationwide, including nearly 100 in Maine.

‘THEY TOOK HIM ANYWAY’

Sandra Scribner Merlim, whose husband was deported to Guatemala in May, described the pain of having a family member taken away from her.

Otto Morales-Caballeros came to the United States from Guatemala alone at age 16 without legal documentation. Merlim has said he fled the violence there after his brother was murdered and his niece was killed. His mother and sister are still in Guatemala, but his wife said he had not set foot in his home country in more than two decades.

After failing to gain legal status for nearly a decade, Morales-Caballeros pleaded guilty in 2013 to a federal charge of felony use of fraudulent documents. He had used false identification and a fake Social Security number while seeking work. Merlim said they were assured by immigration officials he would not be deported if he stayed out of trouble.

But all that changed after Trump was elected.

“They told him he could stay yet they came and they took him anyway,” she said. “That’s what they’re trying to do to dreamers.”

Sahlouo said most of these young people consider themselves Americans and know little about the countries their families fled, including their native language.

She said ending DACA would be “incredibly cruel.” Not only would it put young people in danger, but it would rip apart families and affect local communities, universities where so-called dreamers are students, and the U.S. economy.

“We need our dreamers,” she said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

filed under: