By Marisol Sanchez Verdin
Ed. Note: On Oct. 9, 2017, 17-year-old Golden Valley High School student Marisol Sanchez Verdin helped organize a three-school walkout in protest of the Sept. 5, 2017 rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) under the Trump Administration. The recent walkout follows a legacy led by fearless Kern County teenagers who have sought reform and change for immigrant rights since the 2006 walkouts. In the mid-2000s, more than a thousand Kern County high school students skipped class and rallied in downtown Bakersfield and CSU Bakersfield in support of immigration reform. Verdin’s account of the October rally is a reminder that the divide still exists, especially in Kern County, and that immigrant rights are as important as ever to resolve.
On Oct. 9, along with more than one hundred students from three different high schools, I helped organize a protest in support of friends and family members who are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The DACA program has allowed those brought to the United States as children to come out of the shadows, to feel like they finally belong not only in Kern County, but in America.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Trump Administration’s Sept. 5 memorandum began the phasing out of DACA, leaving only a brief deadline window of Oct. 5 for accepting renewal requests. That deadline has passed. Now it’s up to Congress to help any and all recipients whose DACA and work authorization expires by March 5, 2018. That’s also the same window the Trump Administration is giving Congress to come up with a solution. Will Congress save the Dreamers like they did once before? They have to. In the meantime, hundreds of Kern County DACA recipients now exist in immigration limbo. This has brought back fears of being separated from families and mass deportation.
All of this is why we had to march. We had to do something.
I began Golden Valley High School’s contribution to the three-school protest and march with social media posts of a DACA-rally flier. I sent the information to more than a hundred students. Some students began spreading the news though by the time first period ended I got on top of a concrete block to urge students to join our DACA protest.
Many joined us. At least fifty-five students marched to South High School. When we arrived we chanted “Rebels, Rebels, Rebels!” and “Let’s go, Rebels!” I could see in many South High students eyes that our sign of unity was motivating them to march too. Students from both schools then continued on to Bakersfield High School where more students joined what was to become a nearly eight-mile march to the Liberty Bell in downtown Bakersfield.
By this time 105 students had joined our DACA protest. We were a huge success. Our willingness to march, rally, and chant loudly drew the attention of media outlets. They helped amplify our message.
Our message was this: DACA has allowed nearly 800,000 students to work and continue their education in America. That’s a lot of people. Not everyone realizes that about 15,000 of the nearly two million DACA-eligible immigrants in the U.S. reside in Kern County. That’s according to a 2016 report from the Migration Policy Institute. And more: DACA individuals are just people like you and me. They’re very educated and highly productive. Our DACA brothers and sisters contribute to our economy by holding jobs, paying taxes, going to school, and buying products. They need to be able to obtain valid driver’s licenses, and to be able to work and go to school without living in fear of deportation.
During our march we chanted “Sí se puede,” “Education not deportation” and “Save DACA.” But not everyone agreed with what we were doing. Several adults stopped to say things like, “Why are you fighting for other’s education if you’re just walking out of school?”
My reaction? Our protest wouldn’t have the same effect if we didn’t leave school.
The truth is, we do care about our education. That’s why we’re fighting for those who need to continue to receive the support of the DACA program.
We were also criticized for not carrying an American flag. One of the marchers brought a Mexican flag. I wasn’t going to stop him from expressing pride over his heritage. As for me, I didn’t need to carry a U.S. flag to prove my American pride or citizenship. Although if I had one I would have waved it along the march route.
In the end, any negativity gave us more fuel to continue our rally. And you know what? Not one of us gave up. We were determined that no matter how long it was going to take, or what anyone said, we were going to do finish what we started.
I’m proud of all the students who came out to support. I asked fellow Golden Valley High student Anthony Montalvo why he was protesting. “I have family and friends who are protected under DACA and are afraid to speak up,” he said. That’s true. If we don’t speak up, who will? No limits should be imposed on any individual for wanting to achieve an American dream.
My dream is for DACA to stay. We need Congress to make the right decision in favor of immigrants. The window is short. They only have a few months.
So, how do I feel today? Sure, it was a long march, but I had lots of energy and spirit that day. It felt like I was accomplishing something important for the Dreamers. I was very proud. In fact, the entire march and rally was a dream come true—I’d always wanted to start a protest.
I was born in America. This is my home. I love this country. I’m proud to say I have an uncle who is a Marine veteran. I love my freedom. I love America. I have every right to stand for what I believe in. And I believe in continuing to be a voice for DACA-eligible immigrants until change happens. This is only the beginning.
Marisol Sanchez, 17, is a student at Golden Valley High School. She joined South Kern Sol’s youth reporting team in October.