"I came to support DACA," said Forest Grove resident Beth Genly, 63. "But what I'm getting is this tremendous heart lift" at the show of support from fellow rally attendees and passersby.
More than 130 people showed up to a rally along Pacific Avenue in downtown Forest Grove Thursday afternoon, Sept. 7, to show support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program former President Barack Obama put in place via executive order. The program allows certain illegal immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of safety from deportation. It also grants eligibility for work permits.
President Donald Trump announced earlier this week that DACA recipients could lose their protected status, allowing Congress to come up with a solution for the immigration issue over the next six months. Any executive order can be discontinued by the next president.
At Thursday's rally, many drivers passing by gave friendly honks, smiles and peace signs, which were met with claps, cheers and waves from the Forest Grove, Cornelius and Hillsboro demonstrators.
"We're here to support our students because this is their country too," said Neil Armstrong Middle School teacher Beth Wilbur. "They have every right to be here because they had no role in the process that brought them over here. We need to find a path for them because this is the only home they've ever had."
Wilbur rallied as part of a group of NAMS teachers, including Linda Henderson, who has DACA coworkers. "We need to have more discussions about immigration reform because there are so many of these people adding to our tax base," she said. "Some people working in the school are on their last nerve because they made plans to build their career here. They're working hard. They're paying taxes."
Chris Stanton, 38, also teaches in the Forest Grove School District (FGSD) and has known young people whose parents have been deported. He's worked in the summer at migrant camps, providing healthcare and food. "I want DACA people to know we support them even though our overall government might not."
Rigo Loeza, 35, runs the FGSD's Community Alternative Learning Center and is "heartbroken" that some of CALC's former students who are now pursuing higher education might have their dreams of earning a degree taken away from them. For many, DACA "was literally like a dream," Loeza said. "And to take that away..."
Loeza was brought to the United States legally when he was 13 years old, but grew up with friends who did not have legal status and couldn't pursue degrees higher than an associate's. "They had to settle for any job and forget about their dreams," he said. "There's no other reason to take this away from people other than the intention of hurting someone. Why would you do this?"
Megan Havens, 55, a former Forest Grove resident who lives in Hillsboro, has taught many DACA students in the last five years. "I want them to have the same opportunities as everyone else," she said. "I want them to be able to go to school and hang out with their friends."
Havens said she's been inspired by many of the young DACA recipients she's met, who are often balancing school with raising their siblings while their parents work three jobs.
James Irvine, 15, and Eli Leto, 14, attended the rally with Chrissi Leto.
"It's easy to be involved in your own life and get complacent," Chrissi Leto said. "But that leads you to a place you don't want to be as a country. We aren't going to let these things happen to people."
Irvine said he doesn't personally know any DACA recipients but has a lot of racially diverse friends. "I can't imagine being a kid and having to leave school and be sent away," he said. "They're part of our community and part of us and everyone should have the right to education."
Twelve-year-old Priscilla had the same idea. "Education should be for everyone," she said as she held up a sign on the street corner.
"We're basically breaking a promise to all those kids after we convinced them to give up all their personal information and fingerprints and it's deplorable," said Grant Davis, 70. "I don't care what administration made the promise, we still made it."
Narce Rodriguez, Pacific University executive director of the office of equity, diversion and inclusion, attended the rally to support the DACA recipient students she's met at the college. "I'm happy to see our small community do this so we demonstrate to our country that every corner cares about this issue," she said. "I support this. I believe this is the right thing to do."
"To me, it's about fundamental fairness," said Pete Erschen, 41. "It's great to see this in Forest Grove. I hope people listen."
Martha Khoury, 52, said she attended the rally because she's a Christian "and sacrificing for the benefit of others is one of the basics of Christianity."