A rally on the steps of Columbus City Hall became fiery and emotional as 450 people gathered to show support for immigrants who arrived in America illegally as children and whose futures may now be in jeopardy.

The Rev. Felipe Martinez, pastor of First Presbyterian Church and a native of Mexico, nearly shouted in disbelief at the need for such a meeting in the first place. It was organized quickly over the weekend as news surfaced that President Trump was expected to rescind President Obama’s 2012 executive order for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which occurred Tuesday.

“How did we get to a place where children are punished for the missteps of their parents?” Martinez asked Tuesday, later urging the crowd to respond with “We are better than that!”

Attendees readily did so with gusto.

Story continues below gallery

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

Many, such as Hanna Omar with the Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana, held pro-DACA signs.

“My rage won’t fit on this sign,” her message said.

Primarily, the gathering featured the stories of three local Latino students — among 780,000 undocumented immigrants nationally who have become known as “Dreamers” — working and studying toward a better future in Columbus.

One, Yamileth Martinez, graduated with academic and technical honors from Columbus North High School. She works part time as a School To Work mechanical drafter at Cummins Inc. while in her second year of college, majoring in mechanical engineering technology at Purdue Polytechnic Institute.

When she arrived in Columbus as an elementary school student, Martinez said she was bullied because she didn’t know English.

But she was determined to persevere.

“DACA was a dream-come-true for young Dreamers like myself,” Martinez said. “Part of me no longer feared for my tomorrow.”

Despite the new uncertainty, she still seems optimistic.

“Just remember,” Martinez said, “change happens when all of us come together.”

Collaborating partners for the rally included First Presbyterian Church, Bartholomew County Indivisible, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus, Su Casa Columbus and the Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana, among others.

College student Edwin Manuel, who arrived in Columbus at age 6 “with nothing,” acknowledged that he was “in a little bit of a state of disbelief” at Tuesday’s news out of Washington.

“But I believe there is hope for everything — whether it’s through Congress or some other form,” said Manuel, a business administration mayor at Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus. “So I keep my head high.”

A third student, Joseline Medina, came to Columbus at age 3 with her parents. She is now in her final year of criminal justice studies at IUPUC — “and it’s all thanks to DACA.

“DACA has meant everything to us. It has meant the American dream that our parents promised us,” Medina said.

About 9,000 Indiana residents are affected, said Sylvia Babcock, executive director for the nonprofit agency Su Casa Columbus that helps the local Latino community.

“I think it’s important to see the community come together to ensure unity and support of our DACA students that live here in Bartholomew and surrounding counties,” Babcock said.

Rich Freeland, president and chief operating officer at Columbus-based Cummins Inc., spoke from both personal and professional standpoints at the gathering.

About eight years ago, he met three Latino high students who came to the Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County seeking ways to help their Latino peers with the hope for college.

“It hit me — here was a group of young people working two jobs and going to school,” said Freeland, a Heritage Fund board member at the time. “And this is the group we’re talking about today.”

Jim Roberts, superintendent of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., said in a letter that Rev. Felipe Martinez read that the Columbus-based public schools “are committed to all our students.”

Roberts’ note closed with the following: “It is our hope that our federal leaders will work together in a bipartisan way to address this issue in a manner that allows DACA recipients to continue to positively contribute to our schools, our work places and our community.”

How to help the cause

Organizers of a Tuesday rally in Columbus asked attendees to write U.S. Senators and members of the U.S. House of Representatives, urging them to pass legislation which would write Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program protections into law. Ready-made letters were available for people to take and sign, and many were doing so before the meeting began.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.