They'd known it was coming, and feared it for months, but still the news landed like a gut punch: President Trump was killing a federal program that shields nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation.
“It’s right now official,” CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres told a suddenly silent crowd of immigrants and supporters who, moments earlier, had been shouting, singing and banging drums outside the White House in defiance. “This administration just ended DACA.”
Monica Camacho Perez burst into sobs.
“Taking DACA away is taking us back to a really dark time for immigrants,” said the 23-year-old Maryland resident, who arrived in the United States from Mexico when she was 7. “This is our country. We are not going anywhere.”
The decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ends a five-year reprieve for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, a time when they didn’t have to worry about being deported and could legally apply for jobs.
In 2012, two years after legislation that would have given these immigrants a path to citizenship failed in Congress, President Barack Obama granted them work permits and the chance to get driver’s licenses and attend college. He said they would not be forced to leave just because their parents took them across the border illegally or allowed them to overstay their visas.
Critics accused Obama of overstepping his authority and said the young people known as “dreamers” were taking jobs that should go to legal residents. Trump pledged to end DACA if elected. A coalition of Republican officials said they would challenge the program in court if he failed to do so.
Now the new president has decided to phase out the program and is challenging Congress to pass legislation if it wants the dreamers to stay.
So the DACA recipients’ battle is beginning again.
In the coming days and weeks, protesters said, they will organize sit-ins to urge U.S. lawmakers to pass immigration legislation, hold meetings on how to avoid deportation agents and scramble to apply for DACA renewals before Trump’s six-month grace period runs out.
Camacho Perez and 27 others say they will fast until Friday to draw attention to their plight. They and scores of others marched Tuesday in Washington, while students in Denver and Tucson walked out of classes to protest Trump’s announcement. Rallies were planned throughout the day and evening in Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and other cities.
In Manhattan, about a dozen protesters blocked traffic on Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower. They sat in the street, arms locked, refusing orders from police to disband until several were taken into custody.
“Trump is trying to scare us into hiding, to get us to back down,” said Erika Andiola, 30, a DACA recipient from Mexico who has been in the United States since she was 10. “We’re not going to back down.”
The end of DACA carries implications for many states, where officials must determine whether those who had qualified for the program may continue to pay in-state tuition and keep their driver’s licenses after their permits expire.
Many immigrants say they will lose their jobs once their temporary work permits end, although some employers, including Microsoft, vowed to do what they could to keep that from happening.
Since his election, Trump had expressed sympathy for DACA recipients and promised to deal with them “with heart,” which left those protesting feeling particularly betrayed.
Hundreds gathered outside the White House before the announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, holding signs that said, “We are America,” “Congress! Don’t wimp out!” and “We want education, down with deportation.”
Eliseo Magos, a 23-year-old from Mexico who arrived in the United States when he was 11, said he and both his brothers will lose DACA protection. He lives in Maryland, a state that allows him to get a driver’s license regardless of his legal status, but said he won’t be able to work legally once his permit expires.
He was supposed to start a job at a veterinary hospital in January.
“It’s sad, but we’re not going to stop fighting,” Magos said. “With teeth and fingernails, we’re going to fight.”
But first, on Tuesday, they marched. Demonstrators flowed down Pennsylvania Avenue NW and toward the Trump International Hotel, where they booed and blocked the intersection in the midday heat.
“Shame on Trump,” they shouted.
Then they headed to the Justice Department, where Sessions had announced the program’s end an hour earlier. The protesters blocked the street briefly and then marched directly under Sessions’s office window.
Rebecca Ruiz, 56, came from Pittsburgh on behalf of her son, who is 24, speaks better English than Spanish, and through DACA has a good job at a bank. They arrived from Mexico City when he was 12.
“I came here looking for a better life for me and my family. That is why we’re here,” Ruiz said. “This is my son’s home.”
Belem Orozco, a DACA recipient who came from Mexico when she was 7, said she is more determined than ever to find a way to stay.
“I’m taking this as motivation,” said Orozco, 26. “If the president thinks this announcement is going to make us go away, it’s going to do the opposite.”
Kathryn Johnston, 68, who lives in the District and joined the protest, described the United States as “a land of immigrants. Most of us are.”
“We should welcome immigrants, and we should especially open our arms to the children who have grown up here,” she said. “They are Americans in every sense of the word.”
The march ended in front of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s towering headquarters on 12th Street SW. Protesters again sat in the street, near a line of food trucks selling Peruvian chicken and Greek food, and shouted up at the building. From inside, men and women stared down.
Under Trump, ICE has increasingly arrested immigrants with no criminal records, which will put DACA recipients at higher risk once their permission to stay expires.
“You must be filled with anger and rage, no?” Adanjesus Marin, director of the immigrant-rights group Make the Road Action in Pennsylvania, asked the crowd.
He announced sit-ins Wednesday at the congressional offices of Republicans from his state who have not supported legislation that would provide immigrants a path to legal status.
“This fight didn’t start today, and it’s not going to end today or tomorrow or until we have victory,” Marin said.
Fatima Coreas, 24, said Obama’s program allowed her to go to college and buy a car. She urged dreamers not to go back into hiding.
“All those 800,000 people should be open about their stories,” Coreas said. “We should come out and tell our stories for the American people to hear so they know we’re no less American than anyone else.”
Sari Horwitz in Washington and Renae Merle in New York contributed to this report.