Solana Beach has become the first local government to call on Congress to find a swift and uncompromised solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) crisis, the Obama-era program that has shielded from deportation more than 800,000 unauthorized immigrants — roughly 40,000 of whom live in San Diego County.
Nearly a dozen advocates made impassioned appeals for the Solana Beach City Council on Wednesday, Nov. 15, to pass its proposed resolution, including the La Colonia de Eden Gardens Foundation, the ACLU, the North County Immigration Task Force and Alliance San Diego. They relayed one story after another about youths forced back into the shadows in the two months since DACA’s announced demise, about countless aspirations now cast into uncertainty, about the years of frustrated attempts to advocate for political solutions, and about the immeasurable contribution DACA recipients have made as members of the community.
As she took to the dais, Lisa Montes unfurled a shirt emblazoned with a photograph of her grandparents Jose and Felicita holding their infant daughter in 1919, not long before the family fled across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I consider my aunt Ramona, her,” she said, pointing to the child in the photo, “as one of the very first Dreamers.”
After settling in La Colonia de Eden Gardens — a community founded for immigrant farm workers that survives as Solana Beach’s largest Latino enclave — Jose became a foreman at the Del Mar and Encinitas train stations. The 14 children they raised included military veterans, a Pentagon staffer, an architect, a nurse.
“They lived the American Dream, and our DACA students want the exact same thing,” said Montes, vice president of the La Colonia foundation. “They are not criminals. They are here to prosper and to do well, to get an education.”
Created in 2012 by former president Barack Obama, DACA gives work authorization and a renewable, two-year reprieve from deportation to people illegally brought to the United States as children. After more than a year of seesawing assertions from President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Sept. 5 that the program will be phased out beginning in March 2018, leaving Congress to find remedy for more than 800,000 DACA recipients — one-quarter of whom live in California.
“These are people who live and work next to us. This is the only home that they know,” said Cassie Purdy, an organizer for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “Unless a legislative solution like the DREAM Act is passed immediately, these people are hanging in limbo.”
The 2017 DREAM Act — which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors —would create a path to permanent legal status for childhood arrivals, with an accelerated process for those who have previously received DACA status. A bipartisan coalition sponsored the bill, but it remains unclear how likely it is to gain the necessary traction.
Wary of the political maneuvering ahead, immigrant advocates are calling for a “clean” version of the DREAM Act — meaning without amendments or compromises that would step up deportations or stricter border enforcement.
Solana Beach’s resolution comes on the heels of other efforts to assure immigrant communities in the face of federal tumult. Last year, the city council passed a measure declaring Solana Beach a “welcoming community.” In October, the Solana Beach School District declared its support for DACA students. And earlier this month, two dozen elected officials from throughout San Diego County —including Solana Beach Councilman David Zito and Del Mar Councilman Dwight Worden — sent a letter to Congress calling for a “clean” DREAM Act.
Following those cues, Zito brought a similar resolution to the city council, a measure he hopes will be more than lip service or fruitless gesture.
“While I can’t say that I feel confident it’ll make a difference on the national stage, I do think it does make a difference to the members of our community to know that we are there for them,” he said.
That’s no small gesture for Karla Trujillo, whose parents snuck her into the country from Mexico a quarter-century ago, when she was around 9 years old. After growing up in Carlsbad, she has become a photographer, anthropologist, artist and activist. She has, in the past few months, become deeply involved with La Colonia; an exhibition of her work was recently displayed at city hall.
“You know what, change starts happening here,” she told the council. “We might be this little coastal city [but] you will make a difference in the discussion that happens nationally, and you will make a difference in making everybody who lives here who is my skin color — or any other immigrant who will benefit by this — to feel like we are not alone and we’re no longer in the shadows.”