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Hundreds Rally In South Texas, Demanding 'Clean Dream Act': No Border Wall Attached

David Martin Davies
Texas Public Radio
Protestors operated a giant puppet of an ocelot, a wild cat that lives in the area.

Recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act face a painful decision: Support President Donald Trump’s offer of an immigration deal and agree to fund the building of a border wall. 

But some young undocumented immigrants in South Texas say they won’t support the border wall even if it means they gain a pathway to citizenship.

Seventy-five years ago, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge was established along the Rio Grande. But on Saturday, outside the gates to the 2,000 acre nature area, the crowd of supporters wasn’t having a birthday party — it was holding a protest.

Hundreds of people turned out to express their concern over a border wall.  Scot Nicol of the Sierra Club says this is ground zero for Trump’s barrier from Mexico.

“The first of those walls would hit Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge,” Nicol said.

Credit David Martin Davies / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Erica Davila dressed up as a border wall in protest of President Trump's border policy.

The federal government could move fast to wall off the refuge because it already owns the land, he said, while most other property along the Texas-Mexico border is privately owned, requiring more time to acquiring the land through eminent domain.

Nicol said the only thing stopping the wall from being built at Santa Ana is money. Congress needs to approve funding, which could come after Feb. 8, when the government funding extension expires and legislators must reconvene.

“Everybody basically here is saying, ‘No you should not give them money for the wall,’ ” Nicol said.

Many protestors wore t-shirts that read “Save Santa Ana” or “No Border Wall.” Four protestors operated a giant puppet, portraying an ocelot, the wild cat that lives in the area.

Erica Davila dressed-up as the border wall itself. “I just wanted to make people aware – so you can see what can happen,” she said.

While Trump's campaign platform included a pledge that Mexico would pay for construction of the wall, he is requesting Congress spend $25 billion for the barrier. In exchange, Trump is promising to pass a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants.

And for some Democrats,

“If that’s what it’s going to take to take 800,000 young men and women and give them a chance to live freely and openly in America, then I’ll roll up my sleeves," said U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Chicago, in a CNN interview. "I’ll go down there with bricks and mortar and begin the wall,” he said.

But DACA recipient Allyson Duarte calls Gutierrez's response a stab in the back.

“No deal," she said. "No deal.”

Duarte, 25, a native of Mexico, came to the U.S. when she was 13. Her mother and brother crossed the Rio Grande in the pre-dawn hours, with the hopes of building a new life.

“In our case, it was looking for better economic opportunities," she said. "We struggled quite a bit back home."

But, she added, life in the U.S. was also hard.

“Obviously, if you’re not documented usually you find the lowest kind of employment — oftentimes there is abuse,” she said.

Credit David Martin Davies / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Hundreds of people turned out in South Texas to express their concern over a border wall.

After graduating from high school, Duarte was offered soccer scholarships but she couldn’t accept them because of her undocumented immigration status. She studied philosophy, graduating from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Her younger brother Chris, also a DACA recipient, also graduated from UTRGV with a degree in computer science.

While a deal to allow a path towards citizenship would immediately improve both their lives, she said some things are more important.

“I cannot be so selfish and forget about other immigrant groups — my parents and just the community members that will be affected by the actual physical border wall,” Duarte said.

While Duarte said she understands the arguments for a border wall, the $25 billion price tag deserves a full policy debate — and should not be treated as a throwaway bargaining chip when talking about the fate of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

And until that discussion happens, “I’m not willing to sacrifice that for a potential citizenship,” Duarte said.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org or on Twitter @DavidMartinDavi

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi