Students from more than 20 Denver schools walked out of class and converged on a downtown college campus Tuesday morning to protest President Trump’s order to end a federal program that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
“What do we do when students are under attack?” organizers with microphones shouted at the crowd, which they estimated numbered 2,500 students, teachers and supporters.
“Stand up! Fight back!” the crowd chanted.
The atmosphere at the rally was less intense than at the school walkouts that occurred in the wake of Trump’s election in November, which were marked by visceral disbelief and uncertainty. Tuesday’s rally felt more like a battle cry and a call to action.
“I am here to let them know we are not disposable!” said Paul Yumbla, a teacher at DSST: College View in southwest Denver, who first applied for the protections afforded by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, when he was in college. The program, which began in 2012, is for immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
Trump has delayed the end of DACA for six months, allowing Congress time to come up with a plan to address immigration legislatively.
Two girls who said they are DACA recipients were among the students who walked out Tuesday.
Flor Canales, 16, a student at DSST: Cole High School, said she felt hurt when she heard the news that DACA would end, but said hope isn’t gone.
“I will keep going to school and I will keep fighting,” Canales said.
She said she felt supported by the crowd and by her school. She said teachers took time to talk with her last week about the news that DACA was about to end.
Ana Rios, 16, a senior at STRIVE Prep Excel, said she has been in the country for 11 years.
“I’m a little heartbroken,” Rios said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen now.”
When she got DACA status almost a year ago, her plan had been to get a business degree to help her family start a welding business. Her brother, also a DACA recipient, wasn’t able to go to school, she said, because his school at the time didn’t support him and he didn’t find a way to afford college.
She said she now sees a difference in support for immigrant students like her.
“If it wasn’t for my school I wouldn’t be thinking about college right now,” Rios said. “They’re all about showing us there is a space for us, there are are scholarships, there are opportunities. I didn’t know there were so many people who supported us.”
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg released a statement calling Trump’s decision to end DACA “shortsighted, heartless and harmful.”
“Our DACA students and educators have tremendous capacity, potential and desire to contribute to our community,” he said. “…We know these young people, we welcome and respect them, and we will do all we can to right this wrong.”
Students from several west Denver high schools met at local parks and marched to the college campus together. At the front of the pack with a bullhorn leading chants of, “Whose streets? Our streets!” was 17-year-old Gianella Millan, a senior at the Denver Center for International Studies whose mother is a community organizer and whose father was deported several years ago.
Although Millan isn’t at risk of deportation herself, she said she’s fighting for her community.
“I know so many students with a 4.0 GPA who could have scholarships but can’t because they don’t have that nine-digit number,” she said, referring to a Social Security number.
Alexandra Payan, 16, a student at North High, said she also walked out for friends and family.
“I was lucky enough to be born here,” Payan said. “It was an advantage I didn’t know I had until I saw some of my family and friends struggling with how to go to school.”
Alondra Prado, a 16-year-old student from the Rise Up Community High School in Denver, said she was there to show support for people like her sister’s husband.
“If he can’t get his DACA renewed, it’s going to be really hard for them to pay their rent,” Prado said. “It makes a big difference.”
He couldn’t be at the rally himself because he was working, she said.
Ulises, a 15-year-old sophomore at West Leadership Academy who declined to give his last name, said he’s the first child in his family to be born in the United States. Several of his cousins have benefitted from DACA, he said, and he thinks rescinding it is unfair.
“We just come here to make our lives better,” he said.
Jorge Resendez, a high school social studies teacher at Contemporary Learning Academy, marched with a group of his students. Resendez has a work permit under DACA. He said his biggest fear is that if Congress doesn’t act, he’ll no longer be able to teach.
“Now more than ever we have to come out and push back,” he said.
As they were wrapping up, crowd organizers chanted the names of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, both Republicans, asking DACA supporters to call them.
Gardner announced Tuesday he would join U.S. Sen Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, in backing a bipartisan bill that would shield young immigrants from deportation and give them a path to citizenship.
Coffman has proposed forcing action on a bill he introduced in January that would halt for three years the deportation of any immigrant enrolled in DACA. That effort is considered a longshot.
A school district spokeswoman said DPS “worked with students to provide activities that allow their voices to be heard on campus,” but also made efforts to ensure the students who did walk out were safe. Denver police and district security officers were on hand for the march and rally.
At North High School, sophomore Viviana Chavez watched her math class shrink from 32 students to seven as her peers left for the rally. She did her part, joining other students in a second-floor lecture hall over lunch to make pro-DACA posters for a rally later that afternoon at a nearby park.
“I am here, trying to make as many posters as I can, but I can’t afford to walk out,” she said. “America is meant for people to come here to restart their lives. That’s how our country was founded.”
Seventeen-year-old Kandrick Pacheco Fluker, a senior at Denver Center for International Studies, said he’d never walked out of school before Tuesday. But he said the current political climate left him with little choice but to use whatever power he has to fight back.
“Donald Trump isn’t a joke anymore,” Pacheco Fluker said.
“He’s scary, but we’re showing we aren’t scared.”