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Why this Seattle teen spoke out about being undocumented

Dulce Palma, right, and classmates join a walkout to support undocumented students.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones
Dulce Palma, right, and classmates join a walkout to support undocumented students.

Students at several high schools in Seattle staged a walkout Thursday in support of their undocumented classmates.

This comes in response to the Trump administration’s phase out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and a looming October 5 deadline for current DACA recipients to renew their temporary waivers one last time.

“I’m Zia, I’m Amina and I’m Ebany. And we are daughters of immigrants,” recited three students who just ditched their last classes at Franklin High School in south Seattle.

“Land of sunless people and offspring of colonizers,” Amina continued.

The girls were rehearsing a poem to read at a rally for students who’ve also walked out at other schools around the city.

Senior Dulce Palma, 17, hung in the back as about a dozen of her classmates walked off campus. The rally was a big moment for her. It was the first time she talked in public about living without legal status here. But her reason is clear.

“Because I want younger students to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to embrace that they’re undocumented,” Palma said, speaking softly and looking off in the distance. “And to let them know we’re all together in this.”

Reporter: “You been thinking about this for a while?”

Palma: “Yeah, it was hard. I even cried.”

Reporter: “You talk to your parents?”

Palma: “Yeah, they’re OK with it.”

[asset-images[{"caption": "Dulce Palma rehearses her speech on the way to a student rally. This is the first time Palma will speak out publicly about being undocumented.", "fid": "139592", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201709/P1090614.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]For now, Palma is shielded from deportation through DACA. The Obama era policy gives temporary protections to some immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, have a clean record, and meet other criteria.

The Trump administration is phasing out the program, calling it an overreach of President Obama’s executive powers.

Franklin student Ebany Tura, 17, started organizing this walkout after she attended a forum about the DACA program and heard a local Kenyan student speak about being undocumented.

“The narrative I had in my head is that only Latinos are undocumented,” Tura said. “And I heard how many undocumented people are parents and grandparents. There are just so many things that I was misinformed about.” 

[asset-images[{"caption": "About two dozen students from Garfield High School join the walkout and rally to support immigrants.", "fid": "139593", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201709/P1090616_0.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]Clusters of students from Garfield, Rainier Beach, Chief Sealth, Franklin and other high schools arrived at the rally at Seattle Central Community College.

“It’s not as big as we expected,” said Garfield student Declan Murray. “In the past, walkouts at Garfield were a lot larger. I think the fact that so little people came — in reference to Garfield’s past — shows what Garfield thinks about immigrants.”

About 20 kids from his school joined the walkout. “Not a good turnout,” Murray said, glancing around.

The initial crowd was small – about 60 people.

Murray said he’d like to see his school provide more resources to help undocumented students apply for college scholarships or access legal aid.

Despite the small crowd, DACA recipient Dulce Palma said she’s glad to see the support and proud of herself for taking a stand. But she hesitated for a moment when asked how her public speech might draw attention to her family, who are at risk of deportation.

“I know I’ll get through it if anything happens,” Palma said.

“But no one is going to take me away to Mexico, because this is my country, this is my home and I’m going to stay here no matter what. I’m going to find a way to come back if they take me.”

[asset-images[{"caption": "High school senior Dulce Palma gives her speech at the student rally.", "fid": "139595", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201709/P1090629.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]Similar student walkouts have taken place across the country since the Trump Administration’s announced on September 5 that DACA will end.  

Organizers of the Seattle demonstration are calling for Seattle schools to remain a welcoming place for undocumented students and provide adequate resources to do so.

Washington state has joined in a multi-state lawsuit that seeks to preserve the program. Roughly 800,000 young immigrants in the U.S. are enrolled in DACA, including around 18,000 in Washington.

Year started with KUOW: 2006