Mayra Salas Diaz considers herself an American.
She came to the United States from Mexico more than two decades ago and grew up attending Wichita schools – Colvin Elementary, Jardine Middle School and Northeast Magnet High School.
“I cannot … be sent back to a country that I do not feel a part of,” said Salas Diaz, 26. “I am from here. This is my home. And I refuse to accept the fact that I cannot stay in my home.”
Several young immigrants who live in Wichita and have been protected by a 2012 deferred action program, known as DACA, expressed fear and frustration Tuesday after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that the Obama-era initiative is being rescinded.
About 100 people gathered on the steps of the Historic County Courthouse in downtown Wichita for a rally organized by Sunflower Community Action.
“We are compassionate and humble young immigrants asking for an opportunity to finish college, further our professional careers and fulfill the American dream,” said Carolina Hernandez, a DACA recipient.
“We might have lost the battle, but there’s so much determination in us, and we will prevail because we are on the side of justice.”
President Donald Trump’s decision to end DACA is expected to affect more than 750,000 young people – including about 12,500 Kansas residents – who have obtained work permits to either study or hold a job.
Local supporters of so-called “dreamers” asked Congress to approve legislation known as the DREAM Act, which would protect immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. They held signs that said, “Keep families together,” “Here to stay” and “We are the future.”
“We are calling upon Congress to do a hard thing: Step up,” said Laura Dungan, co-founder and community development director for The Seed House in Wichita.
“When I look at each young person that teeters on the edge of this living nightmare of only getting crumbs in return for a life well-lived, I cannot tolerate it.”
Tony Ibarra, a 19-year-old Wichita State University student, said he came to the U.S. at age 3 and learned as a middle-schooler that he was undocumented.
Applying for DACA status and receiving a college scholarship through the Kansas Hispanic Education and Development Foundation “was the light of hope at the end of the tunnel,” Ibarra said.
“We’re not Americans. We’re not Mexicans. We’re human beings,” he shouted during Tuesday’s rally. “Set the legality issue aside. This is a morality issue.”
He and others pledged to continue advocating for comprehensive immigration reform that would protect young DACA recipients and their families.
“They call us dreamers, but I know that we are fighters,” Salas Diaz said. “I can tell you guys that this is not the end.”