Dozens of students at Edison High School were planning to walk out of class Friday to protest President Donald Trump’s decision to end DACA – a program that protected young immigrants from deportation if they came to the U.S. illegally as children.
“We’re family here. We know DACA recipients here on campus. It affects all of us,” said 17-year-old Erika Banuelos. “We decided we’re going to do something.”
Nancy, a 17-year-old who asked for her last name not to be printed to protect her father, who is undocumented, took to Twitter and Snapchat to mobilize the student body and help plan what would have been a march to Fresno City Hall.
“It was going to be during the flag salute because it’s not liberty and justice for all if you’re labeling people and dehumanizing them,” she said. “There’s no such thing as ‘for all.’”
Never miss a local story.
It’s not liberty and justice for all if you’re labeling people and dehumanizing them. There’s no such thing as ‘for all.’
Nancy, Edison High student
But Fresno Unified school district officials met with the girls, along with fellow student activist Kathia Osuna, and offered a unique solution: to be a part of something interim Superintendent Bob Nelson says will be a “historic moment” on Wednesday.
The district – California’s fourth-largest – will unveil its Dream Resource Center to support undocumented immigrants. While some colleges offer Dream centers, including Fresno State, Fresno Unified officials believe they are the first to open one in the K-12 system.
The center will help families renew their applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals before the Oct. 5 deadline, and will also offer citizenship courses and free legal services. The district had the center in the works, but expedited its opening in light of last week’s DACA announcement. About 18,000 people in Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties are DACA recipients, with nearly 1 million immigrants benefiting from the program nationwide.
The district’s applications for the California Dream Act – which allows undocumented students to receive financial aid for college – decreased from 153 in 2016 to 115 this year, with students and families voicing fears about submitting paperwork to government officials.
There’s a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric on campus, and we want people to know that just showing their support in any way is valuable.
Kathia Osuna, Edison High student
“Fresno Unified is committed to supporting our DACA students and staff,” Nelson said. “The Dream Resource Center will provide instrumental help by adequately supporting our immigrant students, staff and their families.”
The three Edison High students – whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico – say this is a compromise they support. The district has offered a bus Wednesday to take interested students from the school to the Manchester Center, where the Dream Resource Center will be located. Students will also be attending Wednesday night’s school board meeting, where trustees will vote to adopt a resolution in support of DACA.
“A lot of students were really upset with us because we canceled the walkout. They were like, what activists have you ever heard of that asked for permission?,” Banuelos said. “But it wasn’t necessarily asking for permission. It was like, doing this walkout to city hall guaranteed no face time with anyone. We didn’t know if we would actually get our voices heard. We know we’ll definitely be heard this way.”
18,000DACA recipients in Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties
Baneulos said after Trump was elected, things changed on campus. Bullies started using racial slurs against Latinos or threatening to deport people. Her brother was called a “wetback” for the first time.
“The day after the election, the whole vibe at school was really sad and angry. I felt it the minute I walked onto campus,” she recalled. “There are people who are making jokes like, “Trump is going to deport you.’ It hurts when people are making jokes while others are so stressed about what they’re going to do next.”
Sixteen-year-old Osuna is active in the school’s Mexican-American student club, and helped the district pass a safe haven resolution in March to show support for undocumented students.
“There’s a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric on campus, and we want people to know that just showing their support in any way is valuable,” Osuna said. “We felt there was a really pressing need, with certain things the Trump administration was doing, to do something and to have the school board do something.”