In New Jersey, immigrant activists try to reclaim DACA deadline day

Alma Aparicio spoke at a pro-DACA rally at Rutgers Camden, where she is a student. She immigrated to the United States when she was 3 and is able to work and attend school under the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, now threatened by the Trump administration.

Alma Aparicio spoke at a pro-DACA rally at Rutgers Camden, where she is a student. She immigrated to the United States when she was 3 and is able to work and attend school under the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, now threatened by the Trump administration. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Immigrant groups rallied across New Jersey Monday to mark what was supposed to be a decisive day for the DACA program.

Six months ago, President Trump said if Congress didn’t pass new legislation by March 5, he would axe the program, which shields immigrants brought to the United States illegally as minors.

Two court decisions largely invalidated Trump’s deadline, and the estimated 700,000 people enrolled in DACA can remain in the country legally for the time being.

Still, activists held six rallies across New Jersey Monday to mark the occasion and to add a defiant twist.

“We’re going to be taking back the day,” said Rutgers-Camden sophomore Sam Tuero, who organized an event on campus. “It’s not going to be about fear. It’s not going to be about deportation.

“It’s going to be our day showing that we’re here,” Tuero added. “We’re here to stay. We’re not here to run away.”

New Jersey has about 17,400 DACA recipients, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Among states in the Northeast, only New York has more people enrolled in the program.

Alma Aparicio is one of New Jersey’s “Dreamers,” the term colloquially used for DACA recipients. She immigrated from Mexico to Camden at age three and is now an English major at Rutgers-Camden.

As Trump tussles with Congress and the courts, Aparicio has leaned on friends and family for emotional support amid the tumult.

“I can’t imagine doing it by myself,” she said. “I would probably hide myself in a hole if I had to deal with it by myself.”

For years Aparicio hid in that proverbial hole, revealing her DACA status to only a small inner-circle. She spoke at Monday’s rally because she believes her advocacy can help turn the tide for other young people like her.

“I had to make a change because otherwise no one else was going to do it,” Aparicio said. “No one else is going to help me out if I don’t help myself first.”

After graduation, Aparicio hopes to become an immigration attorney.

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