Students and staff formed a human chain around Berkeley High School (BHS) on Friday, September 15 to protest the Trump administration’s announcement of the cancellation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order instituted by President Obama in 2012.
DACA is a program that recognizes that participants, known officially as ‘Dreamers,’ are not a danger to the United States and thus not a priority for deportation. The program gives people who arrived in the US before 2012 at the age of sixteen or younger and who were younger that 31 at the time of the order’s signing a social security number and the ability to work legally. In some states, DACA recipients also qualify for financial aid at public educational institutions, including the UC and CSU systems. The decision to repeal the program affects approximately 800 thousand people, some of whom are students at BHS and in BUSD.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that the program would be discontinued was met with outrage by people across the nation, thousands of whom took to the streets to protest the decision. Melinna Equihua, President of the BHS Chicano Latino club, stated, “Dreamers are hard working and in their hearts they are Americans. This is their home as much as it is ours and they don’t know any other country because they were brought here at such a young age.” The average DACA recipient was six years old when they moved to the US.
Chicano Latino United Voices (CLUV), a club separate from the Chicano Latino club, announced a walkout by posting flyers around the school. They read, “Chicano Latino United Voices asks our allies in the BHS community to join us in solidarity as we form a human chain around the school to show support for Dreamers and the undocumented.”
At the BHS Welcome Assembly the day before the demonstration, Principal Erin Schweng said to students, “We stand with you. We support your action tomorrow.” CLUV worked with BHS faculty and administrators to organize the event, and Schweng said she aided in the facilitation of the event to ensure that students remained safe and the walkout went smoothly.
During the demonstration, students chanted, “No ban, no wall, education for all,” and held posters expressing support for DACA and disdain for the Trump administration. Students returned to class for fourth period.
In an email to BHS families, Schweng estimated that over two thirds of the student body participated in the demonstration.
CLUV member Mayorie Ovalle said, “[The chain is] literally protecting our DACA students. You cannot take them from us. We stand united to protect them.” The protest was inspired by similar action taken in 2008, when students formed a chain around BHS after Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested a local family.
BHS junior Solomon Chang said, “It was great to see everyone unify to stand up for what we believe in and show our support [for] the dreamers in our community in this scary time.”
Following the cancellation’s announcement, President Donald Trump expressed interest in transitioning DACA from an executive action to a law passed by Congress. Trump said he has advised the Department of Homeland Security that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are involved in criminal activity or members of a gang.
In a joint statement, Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, said, “We had a very productive meeting at the White House … We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”
Berkeley and BUSD community members are working to support immigrant students. On September 21, representatives from two local nonprofits were present at Longfellow Middle School to assist DACA recipients.