Students rally for DACA in D.C., work for change in East Tennessee

Students rally for DACA in D.C., work for change in East Tennessee

Nov. 26, 2019


They traveled to Washington D.C., to march and speak out, but their actions may have the greatest immediate impact back in East Tennessee, a place they call home and where friends and family reside.

Five Maryville College students spent Nov. 12 on the grounds around the Supreme Court building, joining thousands of people who congregated while justices listened to arguments of cases that could decide the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that has protected almost a million young, undocumented Americans for the past seven years.

The rally – and the MC students’ part in it – was covered widely by national and local media outlets. MC students were interviewed by the Associated Press, and photos of them and their posters were picked up by newspapers and websites across the country.

Of greater import to them, however, were the interviews by local newspapers and TV stations back home. They want people to know that the issues extend beyond an executive order and that the impact of decisions will be felt in places other than Washington, D.C.

“I wanted to put a face to the policy,” said Alexa Maqueo-Toledo ’22, a Maryville College sociology major who went. “I felt that a lot of people just think of [DACA] as an abstract thing, but once they see the numbers – the people – it actually affects, they can start saying, ‘Well, this isn’t anything that just doesn’t affect me, it affects a lot of other people.”

Maqueo-Toledo was joined by MC students Yoshua Martinez ’22, Jose Franquez ’22 Alejandra Yanez ’22 and Natalie Tankersley ’20.

“You only get this opportunity once in a lifetime,” said Martinez, who is majoring in human resource management. “I definitely want to be able to say that I did the most that I could at every occasion to fight for our rights.

“Every single person who went to protest is a body in a crowd,” he continued. “The bigger that crowd is, the bigger our message gets pushed through.”

The message Martinez, Maqueo-Toledo and others wanted to send was that DACA should be extended and that DACA recipients (also called “Dreamers”) should be given protection from deportation and separation from their families. In 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump called for a phasing out of DACA, which was created by an executive order in 2012, and pushed for Congress to work toward comprehensive immigration legislation.

Yanez and Tankersley, born in the United States, went to the rally as allies, having seen the barriers to education, work and travel that some of their immigrant friends have had to overcome.

“For me, I guess it was that I never really took into consideration how privileged I am to be a Hispanic who was born here until I started coming [to Maryville College] and met all of them and saw how much they struggled,” Yanez said. “I wanted to go to just show them that it’s not just [Dreamers] fighting for their rights; other people are fighting for their rights, as well.”

Prior to the rally, Yanez created a poster with photos of other MC students who are Dreamers, many of whom were unable to make the trip to Washington, D.C. In addition to the photos are the words “We are American!” and the hashtag #IStandwithDreamers.”

After graduation, Yanez, who is majoring in teaching English as a second language (TESL), plans to work with immigrant children.

Trip organized by Define American

The students’ plane tickets and overnight accommodations were organized and paid for by Define American, which describes itself as “a nonprofit media and culture organization that uses the power of story to transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity and citizenship in a changing America.”

Define American sent approximately 50 college students from across the United States to the nation’s capitol. Maqueo-Toledo heard about the organization through another advocacy group, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC).

The four-hour rally included speeches made by representatives from some of the larger groups advocating for DACA (including Define American, Home is Here, United We Dream and, chants and meet-ups with politicians. In addition to being interviewed by media, the group saw or shook hands with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Tim Kaine, Rep. Joaquin Castro and Bambadjan Bamba of the film “Black Panther.” Bamba is a DACA recipient from the Ivory Coast in Africa.

“This is not just a Latino issue. It affects immigrants from all over, from all different races,” Martinez pointed out. “The African crowd is also enormous.”

Advocacy goes beyond rally

A Supreme Court ruling is expected in the spring of next year. In the meantime, the five Maryville College students said they will continue to advocate for DACA and undocumented immigrants. Maqueo-Toledo is organizing a Maryville College chapter of Define American, which she believes will begin meeting officially next semester.

Tankersley, a religion major at the College, said she hopes that through advocacy, she and others can help change the narrative about immigrants in the United States and work toward humane solutions.

“I don’t think people realize that with the removal of DACA, it’s not just an issue of a driver’s license or a work permit,” she said. “It’s also discrimination, segregation and blatantly pointing out that there is an ‘other,’ that there are people whom we consider to be ‘less than.’ With the removal of DACA, we start to dehumanize some people through our language.

“… How does this big issue connect locally and through our communities?” she asked. “It’s not just affecting immigrant communities, it’s affecting all of our communities, because they are a part of our communities, and if you harm one segment of it, you harm all of it.”

Martinez said he believes the rally has been helpful in raising awareness of the issue among people who previously weren’t informed.

“People are hearing about us,” Martinez said. “Before, when I told people that I was a part of DACA, they had no idea what the heck DACA even was. Now, when I say I’m part of DACA, they say ‘Oh, I saw the protest. I saw the news. I saw the crowds.’ Just getting our message out there is the least we can do. We don’t want for all this to be some background thing happening in the government affecting hundreds of thousands of immigrants and for the general public to not know or not care. So the fact that we showed up and made our voice heard is not only the least that we could do, but what we have to do to make sure change is seen. If a decision is going to be made, then people will know the repercussions behind it.”

Supported at MC

Maqueo-Toledo, Martinez and Franquez are all DACA recipients studying at Maryville College with scholarship assistance from Equal Chance for Education (ECE), a Nashville-based non-profit whose mission is to enable opportunities for higher education without regard to race, religion or nation of birth. Because of the partnership with ECE, the College has been able to provide tuition dollars, mentoring and other ongoing support to a limited number of students who are not eligible for financial aid or student loans because of their legal status.

In addition to other criteria, applicants for ECE scholarships must have a satisfactory academic record of a 3.0 GPA or higher in high school, been active in extracurricular activities and have a clear career goal.

Speaking on behalf of Maryville College, President Dr. Tom Bogart came out publicly in support of DACA recipients back in 2017, when President Trump called for an ending to DACA.

Bogart issued a memorandum to the campus community that stated: “We believe ending the DACA program would have a negative impact on our campus community, and if a decision is made to rescind DACA, we will advocate for a reversal. Our DACA students are campus leaders and hard-working scholars who desire to use their Maryville College experience to build better futures for themselves, their families, their communities, this country they call home, and the world.

“We will obey immigration laws, but we also will do whatever is within our power to maintain a welcoming and safe campus environment,” he continued. “We will review policies and procedures needed to keep DACA students enrolled and persisting toward graduation. We will respect students’ privacy. And we will work with other higher education institutions and partners such as the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Conexión Américas, TN Educational Equity Coalition, churches and other community-based organizations to ensure that affected students have access to necessary information and resources.”

On the day of the Nov. 12 rally, Dreamers on campus received another message from administrators – this time an email from Dr. Dan Klingensmith, dean of the College, and Dr. Melanie Tucker, dean of students. In it, the deans reaffirmed the College’s position with regard to DACA and encouraged Dreamers to finish the semester strong and reach out to faculty, staff or administrators for help and support if they needed it.

Maqueo-Toledo said the email made her and other Dreamers feel accepted and supported.

“I loved it,” she said of the memo. “I thought ‘Yes, this is why we are here. We have a support system.’ I really feel this group of students is the next chapter in Maryville’s long and proud history of providing that help to others who can’t get it elsewhere,” she said.

Written by Karen Beaty Eldridge '94, Executive Director for Marketing & Communications

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”