Immigrant rights advocates in Clallam and Jefferson counties had little faith that President Donald Trump’s impending elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would result in anything positive for U.S. residents who entered the U.S. illegally as minors and have been protected by the DACA program since 2012.
More than 50 people gathered at Adams Street Park in Port Townsend on Tuesday afternoon to protest Trump’s decision to rescind, in six months, the protection from deportation provided by the DACA program in hopes that by then, Congress would address immigration reform.
“I’m determined to make sure these children that I know, and those I don’t know, are protected,” said Julie Cochrane, a member of the Jefferson County Immigration Advocates and a rally organizer. “It’s personal.”
Trump pledged that “we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion.”
DACA participants receive two years of deferred action on deportation and are eligible for work permits.
Libby Palmer of Jefferson County Immigrant Rights Advocates, an organizer of the rally, said she had more faith in state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s threat to file suit against the move than Trump’s or Congress’ will to act with heart or compassion.
“You hope for the best and expect the worst,” Palmer said. “We do not have much confidence in the Congress.
“We are going to be urging everyone to contact our senators and representatives and to sign on to a very strong DREAM [Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors] Act,” Palmer said, to protect DACA participants.
It was unclear Tuesday how many residents of Clallam and Jefferson counties are in the DACA program.
“Most school districts, including Port Townsend, do not ask about immigration status and just serve all the kids within our boundaries,” Port Townsend School District Superintendent John Polm said.
Still, the DACA program’s demise is “concerning, given the majority of DACA recipients are either in school or working, according to some national statistics out there,” Polm said.
Port Angeles School District spokeswoman Patsene Dashiell said district personnel were concentrating Tuesday on getting ready for the first day of the new school year.
As of late Tuesday morning, staff hadn’t heard any reactions on Trump’s decision from students or families, Dashiell said.
Port Angeles High School Principal Jeff Clark was planning to discuss the decision with the counseling staff, Dashiell added.
Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle, said his organization has represented DACA recipients throughout Washington state, including in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
“You are going to have a lot of people who already got work permits, got steady jobs,” Adams said. “Some of them have had those jobs for four or five years.
“All of a sudden, they are faced with the huge quandary of what is going to happen when their work permit expires” after March 6, he said.
“At that point, we’ll be forced to see what happens.”
Adams said DACA’s elimination might be felt more in rural areas such as Clallam and Jefferson counties, where smaller populations make it more difficult for employers to find workers.
“All across Washington state, you have employers who are desperate to find help, whether that is someone like a DACA recipient in college or a high school graduate or someone working in the fields,” Adams said.
Adams, too, had little confidence in Congress.
“Congress has shown almost no ability to deal with any type of immigration reform,” Adams said. “It’s basically [Trump] passing the buck.”
Lesley Hoare of the Forks Human Rights Group said DACA, established in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama, came about because of congressional inaction on immigration.
“Congress couldn’t get anything done,” Hoare, a Spanish language interpreter for Forks Community Hospital, said Tuesday.
“With Congress and the political situation we have now, it is very worrisome because it’s really just leaving people hanging.
“Youth that are a productive and important part of our community are at risk.”
Dick Pilling of Port Angeles, former Clallam County Republican Party chairman and a current member of the executive board, also had little confidence in Congress but was more supportive of Trump’s decision.
“I think that having all these [DACA] people in here is probably against the law, although [that’s] not without compassion for the situation,” Pilling said.
It’s Congress’ job to address the matter, not the president’s, Pilling said.
“I guess Obama was a lousy leader and didn’t allow Congress to do their job,” he said.
“Maybe Trump will use his leadership abilities to convince Congress that this is their job and that they should do it.
“Do I think that they will?
“Only if their feet are held to the fire.”
Cochrane said she had visited the detention center in Tacoma and decided to set up a rally in Port Townsend. Over the weekend, she posted notices on social media and the Action Network website.
Faren Bachelis and Larry Bauman, who were visiting town from Shoreline, found out about the rally on social media Tuesday morning and took some time out of their vacation to attend.
“We’re here because we believe these are the most vulnerable people in our country and they don’t deserve to be kicked out due to the color of their skin,” Bauman said.
Said rally participant Nikki Russell, director of United Good Neighbors in Port Townsend: “We are a human community and this country is really built on diversity.”
She added that she was also out at the rally partially for her son, who is currently deployed in Iraq, and doesn’t like seeing what’s happening back at home.
“He wants to be proud to serve his country and is mortified of what this country seems to stand for now,” Russell said. “So there’s that underneath my desire to be out here and be vocal.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland contributed to this report.