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Student-organized rally allows DACA recipients to speak and be heard at Catawba College

SALISBURY — In the courtyard in front of the Catawba College student union Thursday, a group of students and community residents stood in a circle around a fountain.

One by one, a number of the students read aloud from a list of facts about the DACA program.

“In June of 2012, a program called DACA was passed to allow children who arrived to the U.S illegally have a type of legal status to work and go to college,” said Catawba freshman Dariana Saligan.

“To become a ‘dreamer,’ one must not have a criminal record,” said freshman Alex Gutierrez.

“Dreamer” is a term used to describe people approved for DACA — or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Both Saligan and Gutierrez are DACA recipients.

They and several other DACA-approved students told their stories to the group of about 60 people who had gathered to show their opposition to President Donald Trump’s recent elimination of the federal DACA program.

“It’s just really hard when people try to undermine you and say that you come here on a mission to steal somebody’s job or take something away from them when I had no say in being here,” Saligan said.

Saligan, who organized the rally, came to the U.S. from Mexico as a toddler, just before Thanksgiving in 2000.

“And that Thanksgiving, I met my dad for the very first time and I saw my mom (for the first time) in over a year of not seeing her. I did not know she was my mom,” Saligan said. “My grandma had raised me for that time that I was in Mexico with her because my mom came here to better our future.”

She said her mother had thought of the United States as a “place where people can build their dreams.”

“But we’ve had our dreams crushed. We’ve had people tell us that we shouldn’t do things because we don’t belong here and that we don’t have a voice,” Saligan said.

She said she reached her “breaking point” on Sept. 5, when Trump announced that he was rescinding DACA. She said she began planning the rally the day after the announcement was made.

“It is hard to see that some people don’t care about what lies in the future for us, that they just want to get rid of us,” Saligan said. “But getting rid of us isn’t going to be the solution because they’re trying to send me back to a country where there is so much crime going on. Where I can’t even go outside without having the fear that somebody will kidnap you or kill you because you came from the United States and they assume that your family has money.”

Even if the current administration is unable to come up with an alternative to DACA, Saligan’s DACA status will last for another two years.

She said she is doubling up on classes so that she can have “some kind of degree” when her DACA status expires.

“We are dreamers just like anybody else in this country. We have dreams to become doctors, physicians, teachers,” Saligan said. “But people assume that we are criminals, and we are not. I haven’t stolen anybody’s job. I got to college with hard work (and) sacrifices. I am a dreamer, and I am not a criminal.”

Gutierrez, who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 3 years old, said one of the reasons he spoke at the rally was to address misconceptions about DACA.

“None of us actually remember much about Mexico,” Gutierrez said. “So why would you take us back to us place that we don’t know anything about? Like, we’ve lived most of our lives here; we know almost everything. And some of us probably know even more about politics than regular American citizens.”

Saligan and Gutierrez said they had hoped for a larger turnout than the 60 or so people who came.

“This crowd that we had, it wasn’t enough to inform people,” Saligan said. “We need to make it something bigger where the whole Salisbury community sees about it, too, and not just in school.”

Catawba College’s Black Student Union helped Saligan organize and promote the rally. Salisbury Indivisible helped advertise it in the community.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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