Hundreds attend downtown Hillsboro DACA vigil
More than 300 people stood outside the Hillsboro Civic Center Friday evening, Oct. 6, for a candlelight vigil aimed at protesting changes to federal immigration policies.
Centro Cultural de Washington County organized the Oct. 6 vigil as a way to combat the recent announcement that the U.S. would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a federal program that allowed undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children temporary legal status.
Ivan Hernandez, a former student body president at Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus — and a DACA recipient — told the crowd that protecting the rights of undocumented immigrants was more important than his personal risk of being deported.
"It's not about having a Social Security number," he said. "It's about making a better life for our generation."
Centro Cultural spokesman Juan Carlos Gonzalez said Friday's action was meant to send a message to the community.
"It strengthens the fabric of our community, and it builds solidarity," he said. "With all the rhetoric out there, people can sometimes feel helpless. For me, it puts the emphasis on the local community … If people think that that people here don't care, they are wrong. We care very deeply about it here in Hillsboro and in Oregon."
Gonzalez said that plans for the vigil started soon after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration would be ending the program. Trump has called on Congress to take up the issue. Oct. 6 was the last day for recipients to file for DACA.
Event organizers had hoped to light as many as 800 candles at the vigil. Each one represented a portion of the 800,000 DACA recipients who could soon be deported, Gonzalez said.
"This may be a federal issue, but there were people there affected by this, or their neighbors or their friends are," Gonzalez said. "This is something that impacts our community. We wanted to shed light on it and catalyze acts in the community."
Last month, the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement came under fire after agents questioned a Latino man outside the Washington County courthouse. The man was a U.S. citizen and employee of Washington County.
That incident and several others in the past several months have led Centro Cultural to get more involved in local activism, said Gonzalez, who believes it is the organization's duty to speak up for people who are can't fight for themselves.
"As leaders, we have a responsibility to be brave and courageous and bold in the face of uncertainty and fear," Gonzalez said.
Centro Cultural has been working to alleviate tensions among local residents concerned about the implications of DACA's rescision, Gonzalez said. The organization held talks with elected officials and district attorneys after the announcement was made last month, and the organization offers grants to help families pay for expenses.
"That's money that can help families directly," Gonzalez said. "If a family's main income earner is deported, they may be struggling for a few months with rent or groceries or the water bill. That goes farther than just advocacy."