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Arkansas 'dreamers' disappointed in decision to end DACA

Mariela Valeriano, 21, sheds tears at a press conference on Tuesday, sharing reaction from DACA dreamers on the decision to end the program. (Photo: KATV)

The future is unclear for nearly 8,000 so-called dreamers in Arkansas, after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals program is coming to an end. The program created by executive order under President Obama, has prevented deportation for roughly 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to United States by their parents.

Inside St. Andrew's Methodist Church, several DACA recipients took turns giving their reaction to Tuesday's decision to rescind the program.

"It's just so unfair that after they have given us wings to fly and start our dreams, they're just cut off," said 21-year-old Mariela Valeriano, with tears in her eyes.

Valeriano said she has a baby to take care of, relying on DACA to allow her to work and provide for her family. The dreamer told reporters that she pays taxes, works hard and stays out of trouble, yet she's unable to reap any of the benefits of being an legal U.S. citizen.

Maria Meneses, a 19-year-old dreamer and Philander Smith College student, helped to organize Tuesday's press conference for the Arkansas United Community Coalition - an immigrant rights non-profit organization. Meneses focused much of the group's anger on state politicians - primarily Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and her participation in a letter threatening a lawsuit against the Trump administration if DACA wasn't rescinded.

Meneses helped deliver a petition and the stories of other dreamers to Rutledge's office back in August, hoping she would change her mind. Rutledge was unable to meet with Meneses, but sent her chief of staff instead.

"We gave her our stories and she was not interested in that at all whatsoever," said Meneses, at Tuesday's press conference. "Instead she was more interested in what her colleagues had to say about this matter."

Tuesday night, AUCC held community forums at their seven immigrant resource centers across Arkansas, in order to answer questions about the potential impact of Tuesday's announcement. Attorneys were on hand to address legal concerns, in addition to mental health professionals to help deal with the depressing scenario dealt to dreamers in Arkansas.

While many dreamers were concerned about the lack of clarity when it comes to their futures, many are also concerned about their families. Rolando Rodriguez-Diaz, a dreamer who just graduated from Central High School in May, said it's nerve-wracking to think that the government has his information and in turn has information on his undocumented mother and father.

"My parents don't have any protection," said Rodriguez-Diaz, who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was just five.

"Immigration has our information," lamented Rodriguez-Diaz. "I'm afraid one day I'll come home and my parents aren't there."

Rodriguez-Diaz has two younger sisters and said it's daunting to think that his dreams could be crushed, not just by rescinding DACA, but if he's forced to take care of his siblings in the chance his parents are detained and deported.

AUCC said they'll be conducting a hunger strike starting Wednesday night on the steps of the State Capitol, hoping to bring more awareness to DACA and the potential effects the lack of program may bring.

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