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Calls for Congress to pass immigration reform grow louder in West Michigan

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Time is running out for Congress to act on immigration reform and pass a bill to renew the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. Yet with DACA ending March 5, many have already lost their protected status.

While many youth live in limbo, uncertain of whether Congress will act, protests and calls for action continue throughout West Michigan.

"If lawmakers are choosing to ignore their constituents on such a matter that has so much support, what other issues are they ignoring?" asked Danny Caracheo, DACA recipient and college freshman.

Caracheo is one of nearly 800,000 DACA recipients whose dreams went on hold in September, when the Trump Administration announced the program would end. A Davenport University freshman studying on a full-ride scholarship, Caracheo says he was crushed.

"I was excited to study the sciences, go to medical school, I had a plan laid out," he said. "With DACA getting rescinded on my first day of college, actually I was in chemistry class, and that just shattered my whole world."

Studying became difficult for Caracheo, as ICE arrests are climbing: last year 143,470 people were arrested, which is the highest number in the last three fiscal years for the department.

Between uncertainty and calls for change, protests continue in West Michigan, including in Grand Rapids Jan. 19. The West Michigan Coalition for Immigration Reform organized the protest which gathered people holding signs reading, "Stop separating families!" Cell phone and The Rapid bus footage shows a gray SUV hit two women protesting in the intersection of Michigan Street and Ottawa Avenue downtown.

Caracheo says the two women hit went to the hospital, but did not share the extent of their injuries.

Grand Rapids police say they responded to the protest, and ask future protesters to stay out of the roadway and get permits to organize any future protest. There is no investigation into the incident as no victims came forward, GRPD officials say.

"[Let] us know ahead of time, so that we can properly staff the event so that we’re not prohibiting your First Amendment right to free speech, but we have proper staffing in place so we can ensure people’s safety," said Capt. Geoff Collard with the GRPD.

Meanwhile, organizers say being in the roadway was symbolic of how many immigrants’ lives are being put on hold as families are torn apart.

"Families are separating because of this unjust system," said Gema Lowe, Director of the Worker's Center of West Michigan. "It’s for life. So we want to send the message that yeah, maybe you were uncomfortable for 10, 15 minutes, but when families are separated, kids from moms and dads, it’s a whole life."

As Caracheo says he regained his confidence at school despite uncertainty, he continues to call on our representatives to act across political aisles.

"Once you get to the level of what citizens get to have certain rights, that’s when things become concerning," he said. "So again, I want to find a solution that doesn’t take away any of our rights, and a solution that both sides can agree on."

The call for immigration reform continues in West Michigan Thursday evening, with a Dreamer town hall scheduled for 6 - 8 p.m. at the Aquinas College ballroom. Caracheo says organizers have invited West Michigan elected officials.

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