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Pennsylvania residents join national outcry over rescinding of DACA program

Jamie Martines
| Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, 4:15 p.m.
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 30:  About 20 protesters demonstrate to demand immigration reform in front of the White House August 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Organized by The Franciscan Action Network, Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries, Church World Service and Sisters of Mercy and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, the rally began seven days of prayer and fasting to demand the Trump Administration protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protection Status (TPS).  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 30: About 20 protesters demonstrate to demand immigration reform in front of the White House August 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Organized by The Franciscan Action Network, Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries, Church World Service and Sisters of Mercy and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, the rally began seven days of prayer and fasting to demand the Trump Administration protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protection Status (TPS). (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Demonstrators gathered Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to protest the Trump administration's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

Among the gathered were dozens of people from the Pittsburgh region, said Monica Ruiz, community organizer at the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Casa San Jose, which supports Latino immigrants. With Ruiz at the rally were DACA recipients or supporters of the program who were worried about the futures of their friends and family members.

"There are people screaming, there's people crying, there's every emotion you can imagine," Ruiz said, describing the crowd following the announcement delivered Tuesday by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

DACA started in 2012 under the Obama administration. Since then, about 800,000 young immigrants have benefited from the program. According to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, Pennsylvania is home to 5,889 DACA recipients.

In order to qualify for DACA status, an individual must have arrived in the United States before age 16 and resided in the country since 2007, according to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services website.

The program allows undocumented people who are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a General Educational Development (GED) certificate or who are honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Coast Guard or armed forces to remain in the country.

The program does not result in citizenship. But it does allow DACA recipients to attend school, hold a job and obtain a driver's license, for example.

"Preventing them from doing that doesn't serve anybody," said Julian Asenjo, executive director of Casa San Jose. "We're going to do everything possible to support these vetted, committed members of our community."

The DACA program will be phased out over six months. This puts the futures of these individuals in the hands of Congress, as lawmakers are now tasked with coming up with a more permanent solution. As of Tuesday, the government will no longer process new applications for DACA status. Recipients may continue to apply to renew existing DACA status during this six-month period.

Demonstrations are planned Wednesday at lawmakers' offices. Several local organizations, including Casa San Jose, will demonstrate at the offices of Republican Congressmen Keith Rothfus and Tim Murphy to urge them to work with other members of Congress to support DACA recipients.

Rothfus' office issued a statement Tuesday, taking the position that immigration reform "begins with securing our borders and establishing a functioning entry and exit system," which includes addressing the status of individuals who arrived here as children.

"President Obama himself asserted that he did not have the authority to change our immigration laws unilaterally, but then illegally implemented DACA anyway in an election-year ploy to rally his base," the statement said. "The Trump administration's action to end this unconstitutional program restores the rule of law and allows Congress to reclaim its constitutional authority to set immigration policy."

Leaders from Pittsburgh and around the region responded to the announcement to rescind the program.

"Despite this action, I want all immigrants living in Pittsburgh — working here, studying here, raising a family here — to know that I and others will do all we can to protect you," Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement. "Our city was built by generations who came before you, and you will help us grow and thrive for generations to come. This is your city, and you are welcome here."

Pittsburgh is a member of the Dream Coalition, a national partnership of government officials, business leaders, faith leaders and others that support DACA.

"The city will join in legal and legislative efforts to preserve this program, and the promises the United States have made to undocumented immigrants brought here as children," Peduto said in a statement.

"These young people are known as the 'dreamers' because they believe in the American dream," Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh said in a statement. "They have grown up here. They share our language, they share our values and they share their gifts and talents with us, their neighbors.

"If (DACA) is discontinued, they stand to lose their work permits and face deportation to a country where they have no home," Zubik said.

Carnegie Mellon University Interim President Farnam Jahanian also issued a statement, calling on lawmakers to act quickly to find a solution.

"While CMU does not have a large population directly covered by DACA, an action like this that would deny even one of our students a CMU education and membership in our community is deeply distressing," the statement said. "And the potential fate of the children and young adults covered by DACA, who have so much to offer, is morally troubling to all of us."

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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