A crowd of about 175 people held signs, waved American flags and chanted in support of local and national youth who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program.
The Sunday afternoon rally on the Columbus City hall steps was organized late last week by members of Bartholomew County Indivisible, Su Casa Columbus and others.
It was intended in part to encourage people to contact their congressional representatives — all before a vote perhaps as early as this week, on a measure that could decide the future of about 800,000 undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” and whether they may stay in the United States.
Two local DACA youth spoke during Sunday’s 45-minute program in damp, 38-degree weather. Both briefly broke down emotionally at the microphone as they told their story. But members of the crowd encouraged them with approving applause and shouts of “You’re doing great!”
Linda Ventura, a junior psychology major and winner of three scholarships helping her attend IUPUC, tearfully acknowledged that she is “absolutely terrified” of being sent out of the United States when the only substantial life she has known has been in Columbus since she came here at age 7 from Mexico with her mother.
Ventura said that reading news reports of DACA deportation possibilities the past few months has been “an emotional roller coaster.”
“We have built our life here,” Ventura said. “This is where our jobs are, this is where we pay taxes and this is where we contribute.”
Nancy Renteria, a Columbus North High School senior, said she regularly is grateful for all that she has here.
“Just being able to say that I plan to further my education is such an honor,” Renteria said, adding that she believes DACA is making a positive impact in the local area.
Renteria said that it’s doubtful that her family would have the resources to send her to college in Mexico.
The Rev. Felipe Martinez, one of the rally planners and also pastor of First Presbyterian Church, spoke with a fiery emphasis just as he did at a previous DACA rally that drew 450 people on a Sept. 5 weekday in the same location. He said he believes in the nation’s laws, but also believes in justice for all people.
“If we have to have a rally like this every week (to stir enough support), we will do it,” Martinez said to a big cheer from the audience. “Remember that you are their voice.”
Columbus resident Jenny Heichelbech, who was in the crowd, said she would be a voice of compassion.
“It just seems so wrong to send people back to a country that they don’t even really know,” Heichelbech said. “For them, this is home.”
Some national news sources have reported that a measure could be put to a vote in Congress from a House bill that would limit family reunification immigration, end the diversity visa lottery program and authorize as much $70 billion for the construction of a Mexico border wall and provide a plan for the future for the immigration program.
President Donald Trump tweeted last week that he was giving the Democrats until March 5 to come up with a workable DACA plan.
At least one sign in Sunday’s crowd played slightly on Trump’s campaign and presidential motto. It read, “Ending Hate Makes America Great.”
Near the beginning of the rally, crowd members marched around the Bartholomew County Courthouse as a number of motorists honked their horns as they drove by. Later in the gathering, a car whizzed past on Second Street with its windows down and all occupants waved happily while its driver pressed long on the horn.
Michael Greven of Bartholomew County Indivisible thanked people for coming out in the cold weather, especially when rain had been forecast earlier.
“We’re all here today because we believe in the fundamentals of fairness and compassion — parts of the foundation of our very democracy,” Greven said.
Local sources have estimated that DACA affects about 9,000 people in Indiana.
Since late summer, the topic has been the subject of considerable debate in Congress.
“I hope we can leave here today resolved that we’ll do this (rally) again. And again. And again (if needed),” said Sylvia Babcock, executive director of Su Casa Columbus, an organization that works to help Latino families assimilate in this area.
“How much longer must our DACA students hold their breath?” Babcock asked.