MANHATTAN – One of the young immigrants who helped spur enactment of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Cristina Jimenez was 13 when her Ecuadorean family moved to Queens, New York’s most diverse borough.
Now the executive director of United We Dream, the country’s largest immigrant youth-led organization, the 31-year-old is preparing to face off against another famous Queens resident: President Donald Trump, whose administration announced an end to the DACA program on Tuesday morning.
“Make no mistake: We will not be pushed into the shadows by these racist politicians,” Jimenez told reporters during a conference call Tuesday afternoon.
“This is our home, and we’re here to stay,” she added.
Pointing to the successes of a program that has paved a path to citizenship for 800,000 undocumented youth, dozens of DACA beneficiaries and allies convened Tuesday for a sit-in at Midtown Manhattan’s Trump Tower.
“We are angry for all the young undocumented immigrants that haven’t turned 16 yet and are waiting to apply for DACA,” said Thais Marques, a spokeswoman for the group Movimiento Cosecha, whose name is Spanish for the harvest movement.
Despite the threat to the deportation protections they are afforded under DACA, at least nine of the 22 protesters arrested Tuesday at Trump Tower are Dreamers themselves.
Erika Andiola, a onetime press secretary to Sen. Bernie Sanders, is among this group.
Attorneys for another Dreamer, Mexican-born Martin Batalla Vidal, wasted no time meanwhile in challenging the DACA rollback in court.
Represented by the National Immigration Law Center and Make the Road New York, Vidal has been fighting over DACA since last year when a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction that jeopardized his employment authorization.
Yale Law School professor Michael Wishnie filed a brief in this case Tuesday that says this morning’s threat to DACA must be viewed in the context of the racial animus Trump evinced against Latinos last month at a rally in Phoenix.
“President Trump’s consistent anti-Mexican statements, from the start of his campaign through his rally last month in Phoenix, demonstrate his intent to discriminate against Mexican and Latino individuals, who will bear the overwhelming burden of the DACA termination,” a 6-page memo filed Tuesday in Brooklyn states.
Trump referred to undocumented immigrants as “animals” at the Aug. 23, 2017, rally, saying they bring “the drugs, the gangs, the cartels, the crisis of smuggling and trafficking.”
Federal courts across the country have cited similar statements by Trump in blocking his so-called travel ban of several Muslim-majority nations.
Jimenez, with the group United We Dream, spoke about this apparent motivation as well.
“With this move, Trump is fulfilling a very sick white-supremacist scheme developed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others in his administration to terrorize people like my brother — who has DACA and is 23 years old — and thousands of immigrant youth and families like mine around the country,” Jimenez said.
Among other legal challenges Trump can expect is a lawsuit by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
“Dreamers are Americans in every way,” Schneiderman said Monday when news of the threat to DACA permeated the Labor Day weekend.
“They played by the rules,” Schneiderman continued. “They pay their taxes. And they’ve earned the right to stay in the only home they have ever known. More than 40,000 New Yorkers are protected under DACA. They pay more than $140 million in state and local taxes. They are vital members of our community.”
With protests raging across New York City – and the rest of the nation – throughout the day, Schneiderman arrived to the largest at New York’s Foley Square, the hub of the city’s state and federal judiciaries.
Schneiderman stood on a platform in front of Manhattan Supreme Court and before a crowd of thousands to reiterate his pledge for legal action.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we need to get this message out loud and clear: They are not the enemy. They represent the best of America,” Schneiderman said to applause, referring to the Dreamers.
“Their parents came here seeking freedom,” he said. “They ran toward the torch of justice in New York Harbor. We cannot – and America will not – betray them.”
Addressing the tens of thousands of New York Dreamers, the attorney general added: “We see you. We hear you. We care about you, and we have your back. America made a promise to you and I will stand shoulder to shoulder with you to see that that promise is kept, and to President Trump, let me say something I’ve had to say many times this year: I’ll see you in court.”
Schneiderman’s office has kept busy challenging Trump executive actions, including the travel ban and rollbacks of other signature Obama administration accomplishments like the Clean Power Plan.
The AG’s office did not confirm when or where the lawsuit would be filed by press time.
Several other New York politicians shared a platform with Schneiderman that night, among them the city’s comptroller Scott Stringer, public advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer.
Union leaders, community organizers and DACA recipients – many of them professionals and students – also shared the platform.
Vidal, the 26-year-old DACA recipient suing in New York, has been studying for a medical assistant’s degree since 2015. The Dreamer label is used out of affection for inspirational stories like his, but Vidal told reporters Tuesday of another group who deserves credit.
“They call us the Dreamers, but at the end of the day, our parents are the Dreamers,” he said.
By press time, thousands of protesters had been headed to the nearby Brooklyn Bridge, planning to block traffic in more acts of civil disobedience.
The New York City Police Department had no information as to arrests after 3 p.m., when 34 people had been arrested at the day’s earlier actions.