When President Donald Trump rescinded the executive order that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Robert Harrison looked for a way to take action.
Harrison, a history instructor and the faculty adviser for the Our Revolution club at Linn-Benton Community College, knows the clock is ticking for recipients of DACA, who are also called "Dreamers."
Brought to the United States with their families as children, DACA recipients are undocumented immigrants with no residency status. Those who qualified for the program are allowed them to work legally, obtain a driver's license and avoid deportation, but with the president's action on Sept. 5 — even with a six-month window to give Congress time to act — the future holds no certainty.
Harrison and the Our Revolution club organized a rally for DACA on Wednesday at LBCC to show support for program recipients and share their stories.
As part of the rally, speakers gave information on how to sign an online petition at www.change.org to create a path to citizenship for the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients nationwide.
"When DACA was rescinded, I thought, we have to show some kind of support for Dreams on this campus," Harrison said. "They're our neighbors; our classmates. ... These are Americans, to me. They should be citizens."
Speakers included Harrison; Javier Cervantes, LBCC's director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion; and two people who shared their immigration stories.
Juan Navarro, 24, of Monmouth is studying for his master's degree in the college student services administration program at Oregon State University. He was brought to the United States from Mexico at age 3 by parents desperate to find help after a doctor told them he would never walk.
It took a Shriner's hospital willing to take Navarro as a research case, 12 years of physical therapy and six surgeries, but today, Navarro can walk. And with DACA's help, he was also able to work, drive and receive certificates and degrees from both Chemeketa Community College and Western Oregon University.
DACA made him feel safer, he said. It prompted him to get involved and to be vocal about his life story.
When he receives his master's, "My dream is to come back to a community college or university," he said. "I want to be a name; be a 'Javier Cervantes' of an institution. ... I want people to say, 'I got motivated because of you.'"
But DACA can be renewed only every two years. And if Congress doesn't act, Navarro's status will evaporate right around the time he is finished with his master's program, leaving him unable to legally work.
Oregon's U.S. representatives can help find an answer, he said. "Call him every day. Emal him every day. ... What we need you to do is aid us in changing the narrative."
Blanca Ortiz of Albany was brought to the United States from Mexico at age 9. She attended classes at LBCC but struggled to pay her tuition because she was not allowed to work legally. She ended up working as a waitress for several years and recently opened her own nutrition and fitness business, with an office in Lebanon.
To qualify for DACA, applicants had to have been born on or after June 16, 1981, which made Ortiz ineligible. Instead, she and her family pursued documentation through a program called Family Unity. To be eligible, an immigrant must be the spouse or unmarried child of a legalized immigrant holding temporary or permanent residence.
Ortiz did receive Family Unity status, but it must be renewed every two years. She also qualified for a four-year U visa, granted to victims of crimes and abuse, but that expires next year. By then, however, she's hoping her application for permanent residency comes through — after 31 years of trying.
"People say, 'Why not be legal?' It's not easy," Ortiz said.
She urged the listeners to support restoration of DACA and a path to citizenship. "I do believe the Dreamers have so much to offer," she said. "I do not believe that making it go away is going to make anything better."
More than 60 people, including least two writing classes, attended the noon event Wednesday in the LBCC courtyard, although some attendees stressed they were there only as observers, not necessarily to take a side.
Nevertheless, Harrison deemed it a success.
"I think they did a wonderful job of just raising awareness," he said.