Supporters of undocumented immigrants in San Francisco and Los Angeles rallied Tuesday on the fifth anniversary of the Obama-era program offering protection from deportation and work permits for some 750,000 people who were brought to the United States as children.
More than 50 people converged on McKesson Plaza in San Francisco's Financial District and dozens joined together at Vista Hermosa Natural Park in downtown Los Angeles to voice their support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — which has allowed more than 200,000 Californians to avoid deportation in the past five years.
But the program has been a consistent target for Republican lawmakers, including — at times — President Trump.
Most recently, the attorneys general of 10 states and the governor of Idaho sent a letter on June 29 to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging the Trump administration to phase out DACA by Sept. 5 and threatening to sue the federal government if the program remains in place.
"I think President Obama made a promise on behalf of our government and that we need to respect that promise," said Cherie Newell, a member of Indivisible Berkeley who attended the rally in San Francisco. "I think it's despicable that the young folks who came out and trusted the government now have to live in fear every day."
Rally-goers in San Francisco took turns addressing the crowd with strong denunciations of the Trump administration and calls to support all undocumented immigrants, including those not covered by DACA. The group broke into song multiple times, including a rendition of "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" from the 1949 Broadway musical "South Pacific."
During the presidential campaign, Trump promised to end DACA, but soon after taking office he said that DACA recipients "shouldn't be very worried." In June, the Department of Homeland Security said it would not be making any changes to DACA, explicitly stating that no changes would be made to eligibility requirements and no work permits would be terminated. But stories of Dreamers being picked up in immigration sweeps and even deported have raised concerns in the undocumented community.
"I'm still in fear," said Cintia Davila, a DACA recipient who spoke through tears at the San Francisco rally. "I don't know if my permit will be revoked by whatever is going to happen."
Davila recently had her DACA renewed for another two years and moved to the Bay Area from Chicago for a job as a software engineer with Google. She said the uncertainty of DACA under the Trump administration has forced her to think about what would happen if she were deported to Mexico.
She hasn't lived there for 19 years.
"Am I OK living in my home country? Would I be able to find a job in my home country? What is it like to be in my home country?" Davila said.
Manny Jimenez said he was a sophomore in high school when he qualified for DACA four years ago.
“Previous to that, going to college was more of a far-fetched dream,” Jimenez said at the rally in Los Angeles. "Post-DACA, that dream became more of a reality."
DACA enabled Jimenez to enroll in college, where he's currently a biology major with plans of going to medical school and becoming a neurosurgeon.
Jimenez and Davila are among the nearly 750,000 people who have already taken advantage of DACA. But the current uncertainty makes things harder for people considering applying for the first time.
“It’s a real challenge to weigh the risks and benefits," said Jayashri Srikantiah, the director of the Immigration Rights' Clinic at Stanford Law School. "It’s a real gamble to apply and make yourself known to the authorities.”
Srikantiah said a potential lawsuit by states challenging DACA could be a tough sell since the program has been operating for five years, but that doesn't mean a judge couldn't temporarily freeze DACA if a suit was filed, which she said "would deal a significant blow" to the program.
"We cannot allow our immigrant communities to be trampled upon," said U.S. Rep. Judy Chu at the Los Angeles rally.
More than 100 mayors and county officials from across the country -- including the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and 16 other California elected officials -- signed a letter addressed to Trump on Tuesday urging the president to support DACA and work with Congress on bipartisan legislation introduced in July that would provide a path to legal status for people who were brought to the country illegally as children.
"Allowing these young people to remain in the country with DACA or permanently through a legislative solution -- a position supported by the vast majority of American voters across the political spectrum -- would only further reveal the vast potential of these young people," the letter says.
In July, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led 19 other states in penning a letter to Trump urging him to ignore those threatening to sue over DACA and "affirm America’s values and tradition as a nation of immigrants and make clear that you will not only continue DACA, but that you will defend it."
Becerra said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters that DACA has been an overwhelming success for California and stands on solid legal ground.
"[DACA recipients] have earned a chance to grow, contribute and build our economy and enrich our communities," Becerra said.
Read the Tuesday letter from 108 mayors and municipal leaders belonging to the coalition Cities for Action, a group pushing immigration reform, below.
KQED's Peter Jon Shuler contributed reporting to this story.