Texas police arrest DACA recipients in Austin protest

Activists chant ‘undocumented, unafraid’ as they block street in Texas capital to protest Trump’s immigration rhetoric.

DACA protest Austin TX
Trump has vowed to repeal the DACA programme, which has approved more than 787,000 young people since 2012 [Courtesy of Cosecha]

At least 15 people, including four DACA recipients, have been arrested in Texas during a protest demanding permanent legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The demonstration, organised by Cosecha – a nonviolent immigrants’ rights movement – took place in the city of Austin near the state capitol building on Wednesday. 

A group of about 50 people chanted “undocumented and unafraid” and “si se puede” (“yes you can”) as some blocked a street in the state capital, leading to the arrest of 15 people including four beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme.

Under DACA, which was implemented by the Obama administration, children who arrive in the US are allowed a temporary reprieve from deportation if they meet a series of requirements.

More than 787,000 young people have been approved for the DACA programme since 2012, according to government data.

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US President Donald Trump repeatedly vowed to repeal DACA during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Earlier this month he told reporters that deciding what to do about DACA was a “very, very hard” decision to make.

There was a “high risk” for the DACA recipients participating in Wednesday’s protest, Cosecha‘s spokeswoman Maria Fernanda Cabello told Al Jazeera.

“It’s a very high risk to get arrested as a beneficiary of DACA,” Cabello said, pointing to recently introduced state and national legislation and Trump’s rhetoric on immigration as cause for fear among undocumented immigrants in the US.

“We’ve been getting hit from every angle,” she added.

According to local media, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) staff sergeant Victor Taylor said: “after repeated requests by DPS officials to leave the roadway were ignored, the suspects were arrested without incident”.

Catalina Santiago, a DACA recipient who was arrested on Wednesday, said in a statement that she wants her “community to know that politicians do not get to decide who is deserving of dignity and who is not”.

“DACA is under attack while my parents, who are farm workers, were never even given the temporary protection DACA provides,” she added.

“I am getting arrested today to tell my parents, my community and the rest of the 11 million that no matter what politicians say, you are worthy, and we will not settle for the crumbs they offer us in exchange for being the economic and labour force that sustains this country day in and day out.”

According to Cabello, the 11 activists also arrested have vowed to stay in jail until the DACA recipients arrested have been released.

‘Ground zero’

On Tuesday, the US justice department intensified its crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, implementing stricter rules for cities that receive grant money from the federal government.

Under the new rules, cities must give 48-hour notice before releasing a detained undocumented immigrant wanted by federal immigration authorities and give the authorities access to jails in order to receive grant funds.

“Sanctuary cities” and states limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities in an effort to help reduce the number of deportations.

In April, a US judge blocked Trump’s executive order that sought to withhold federal money from such cities.

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law, known as Senate Bill 4, in May that effectively bans sanctuary cities in the state. Under the law, which is set to go into effect on September 1, local law enforcement can be charged for refusing to comply with requests from federal immigration agents. It also allows police to question people’s immigration status while detained.

Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton led a group of his counterparts from nine other states in sending a letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions that called for the “phasing out” of the DACA programme.

Cristina Tzintzun, the founder and executive director of Jolt, a Latino advocacy group said such moves show that “Texas has become ground zero for Trump’s plan against the undocumented community”.

Tzintzun told Al Jazeera her husband was among the 15 people arrested at Tuesday’s mobilisation, adding that measures like Senate Bill 4 “open the door” to racial profiling and discrimination based on last names.

‘Fear has multiplied’

Natalie Romero, a US citizen whose parents are undocumented, said the Texas moves, as well as the crackdown by US authorities, have amplified by fear felt by immigrants in the US.

“What Texas is doing is facilitating Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda”, Romero, who participated in Wednesday’s mobilisation, told Al Jazeera.

The 20-year-old university student said that since the US president took office in January, the “fear faced by immigrants has multiplied”.

She added that such legislation does not just affect immigrants, but the entire country.

“The country will not function without these immigrants,” she said.

Cosecha‘s Cabello agreed, saying that the movement wants to challenge Trump’s rhetoric from “do you want immigrants to you need immigrants”.

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Source: Al Jazeera