The group of adults and children that gathered on the sidewalk near the intersection of Marsh and Pepper Street Sept. 5 wasted little time before breaking into chanting.
"Dreamers must stay! Trump and Pence, go away," they shouted while waving colorful signs at passing cars.
The crowd was one of many that came together across the U.S. to show support for individuals who were brought into the country as undocumented immigrants when they were children. Under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, nearly 800,000 of those young people, often referred to as "Dreamers," were able to live, work, and get an education in the United States without the threat of being deported.
That protection is now in jeopardy, after President Donald Trump announced that he would begin phasing out the program, placing the future of those Dreamers in question and prompting immigration advocates to take to the streets in support of the DACA program and those it helps.
"There's a tremendous amount of uncertainty," said Cal Poly Professor Jane Lehr, a founding member of the Central Coast Coalition for Undocumented Student Success. "This could have tremendous negative impacts on undocumented people across the United States."
The Coalition organized the rally, which took place outside the SLO office of Central Coast U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara). Attendees included parents, educators, and even local students like Cal Poly undergrad Katie Tindel, who wanted to show up and support Dreamers attending local schools, colleges, and universities.
"I feel like I had an opportunity to help my fellow students," she said.
The fate of the DACA program has been up in air since the 2016 election, which Trump won in part by taking a hardline stance against illegal immigration. The president's past positions on DACA have been mercurial at best. In September 2016 Trump, then a candidate, promised his supporters that he'd terminate then-President Barack Obama's executive order on immigration, which included the DACA program. In January, the newly elected Trump told Dreamers "they shouldn't be worried," stating that he had "a big heart."
That uncertainty created uneasiness in the undocumented immigrant community, according to Lehr, particularly for Dreamers who could face deportation from a country were they've spent the majority of their lives.
"It's not knowing if you will be able to go to school tomorrow. Not knowing if you will be able to go to work tomorrow... the levels of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed," she said.
On Sept. 5, Trump announced that he planned to begin winding down the program over the next six months, placing the onus to pass immigration reform legislation, including DACA, in the hands of federal lawmakers.
"I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act," the president said in a Sept. 5 statement.
The announcement triggered a wave of responses from lawmakers, including Carbajal, who noted that more than 9,000 Central Coast residents were eligible for the DACA program.
"I was once a young immigrant to this nation, which has since given me the opportunity to work hard, raise my family, and serve my country both in the military and in Congress," Carbajal said in a statement released shortly after Trump's announcement. "Terminating DACA and stripping Dreamers of that hope and opportunity is unconscionable and incompatible with our American values."
Carbajal called on Congress to immediately pass legislation to permanently codify DACA.
According to data from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than 200,000, or nearly 25 percent, of the country's DACA recipients live in California.
Like Carbajal, Lehr encouraged citizens to pressure their congressional representatives to pass legislation to protect DACA and the immigrants it affects.
"We need to push members of Congress to enact immigration support bills, not bills that penalize them," she said. Δ