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Last week, the West Michigan Coalition for Immigration Reform (WMCIR) held a Dreamer Mega-Dinner in Grand Rapids, an event that brought together Dreamers, advocates, and elected officials in a way that the group hopes will be foundational for efforts to come.
Attending the dinner were staffers from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Gary Peters (D-MI)’s offices; Jeff Thomas, the Democratic businessman and nonprofit organizer running against Republican Rep. Justin Amash; six county commissioners, including one Republican; one city commissioner; Michigan State Reps. David LaGrand and Winnie Brinks; Michigan Board of Education trustee Lupe Ramos-Montigny; and fourteen Dreamers. (A number of the elected officials were part of a letter that 1,850 American leaders from across the country signed asking Trump to keep DACA in place. There are an estimated 6,430 DACA recipients in Michigan.)
One of the Dreamers was Kevin Curiel Vazquez, who was recently the subject of an extensive MLive profile on local DACA recipients. Kevin came to the US from Mexico when he was eight and recently graduated from Grand Rapids Community College. While there, he was vice president of the GRCC Student Alliance and started a support group for DACA students called GR’s Dreamers in Action. It took Kevin eight years to earn an Associate of Arts Degree, mainly due to financial difficulties, but this fall he’ll be starting on a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications at Western Michigan University. He wants to go onto graduate school and envisions a career working in higher education.
DACA, he told MLive, changed his life: “Between 2009 and 2013,” he said of the time before he had DACA, “I didn’t have any documentation and those were, hands-down, the most difficult periods of my life…living in fear is just not living at all.”
His biggest worry now is not deportation, he said. Instead, Vazquez worries DACA will be taken away, and with it all the opportunities afforded to him to freely pursue his dreams for the future.
The Dreamer Dinner was held at a “progressive Latin restaurant” where the Dreamers explained what DACA and the Dream Act are and what elected officials can do to help Dreamers. The event was held before Trump’s Tuesday announcement that he was rescinding DACA, but the attendees discussed rumors about the program ending and how that would affect the lives of Dreamers like Kevin. Local issues were also discussed, including a driver’s license bill (Michigan does not allow undocumented immigrants to legally drive) and immigrant detainer policy. Afterward, the elected officials spoke about how impressed and affected they were by the dinner and the opportunity to hear Dreamers’ stories.
“I think for the elected officials, being able to meet one-on-one and get face time and meal time with young people really educated them, in a way you don’t get by just reading about an issue,” said Richard Kessler, an advocate immigration attorney of 35 years who spearheaded the dinner.
The group hopes that the officials will stay involved. When Grand Rapids held a pro-Dreamer rally on the day of the DACA announcement, a number of officials from the dinner came, which WMCIR partially credits to the dinner. And event organizers are open to holding another Dreamer Dinner now that DACA is officially gone, to discuss more specific tactics to protect Dreamers at the state and national level.
The West Michigan Coalition for Immigration Reform is a loosely affiliated group that was started in 2011 and includes faith leaders, labor organizers, immigrant advocacy, and legal rights groups such as Michigan United, the Michigan Organizing Project, Cosecha, and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. They have helped families with deportations cases and mobilized against ICE, organized rallies and built power with elected officials. You can find out more about them here.
View video of Kevin’s story below: