Well over 100 people marched and chanted in downtown Chattanooga on Saturday in support of government programs allowing immigrant youth to live the American dream.
"Up, up with the education — down, down with the deportation!" they shouted, as they took a winding route from the Chattanooga Public Library to Chattanooga City Hall.
The Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition organized the event to let Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients, known as "Dreamers," share their stories along way.
DACA, launched in 2012, the provides identity documents, work permits and protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and who meet certain requirements. Tennessee has 8,300 of the nation's estimated 800,000 DACA recipients.
"Where would I be without DACA?" Alondra Gomez, 20, asked the gathering. "I would not be able to work. I would not be able to pursue higher education. I would not even be able to drive a car."
Gomez, who works at an allergy clinic and attends the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said she left Mexico with her family when she was 5 years old.
Richard Guerrero, 23, said his family fled Venezuela for a better life when he was 5. He works at a mortgage company and has lived in Chattanooga since he was in sixth grade.
"My name is Richard Guerrero, and I am an American," he told the cheering crowd. "The only thing separating me from the rest of you is a piece of paper. I am your neighbor. I am your co-worker. I am your classmate."
Speakers also voiced support for the DREAM Act of 2017, a bipartisan bill that offers a path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth who came to the country before they turned 18 years old.
While President Donald Trump has not moved to end the DACA program, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and attorneys general of nine other states have threatened legal action if he doesn't shut it down by Sept. 5.
The president has been embroiled in a number of legal challenges to immigration control measures put forward by the White House since January. Questions remain over how, when or even if the U.S. will build — and pay for — a wall separating it from Mexico, a core Trump presidential campaign promise.
Locally, some immigration attorneys have reported heavy-handedness by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when it comes to initiating removal proceedings.
The Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition also organized marches in Nashville and Memphis on Saturday.
The organization demonstrated in Nashville in support of immigrant youth when Vice President Mike Pence attended the Tennessee Republican annual fundraiser in early August.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@times freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.