When Felix Vargas joined the U.S. State Department, he stood on the Lincoln Memorial and remembered Martin Luther King Jr.
Ten years before, the slain Civil Rights leader stood on that stage and told a crowd of about 250,000 about his dream.
King’s message of peaceful resistance remains resonant, Vargas told about 350 people Monday during Columbia Basin College’s annual celebration in Pasco.
The retired Army colonel and a leader in Consejo Latino said King’s legacy continues in the protests for the 1,900 people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the Tri-Cities, and with the protests following the police shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes.
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Since former President Barack Obama signed the executive order creating DACA in 2012, about 800,000 students, employees or military enlistees enrolled. Then President Donald Trump declared the program would end in March.
Trump put the impetus on Congress to come up with a solution for the people who arrived in the country as children and, in many cases, didn’t know their immigration status until they were in their late teens, Vargas said.
“They have no other country, but because they’re undocumented, they are subject to deportation, according to our outdated immigration laws,” Vargas said.
Several local students have brought their protests to Washington, D.C., and received support from Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Yakima, as well as Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash.
As negotiations between Congress and the White House ground to a halt in recent days, the Trump administration announced it would resume taking applications to the program after a federal judge blocked plans to end the program.
“This is a pretty tough ask for Congress which hasn’t accomplished much and hasn’t passed a new immigration act since 1990,” Vargas said.
In asking to stay in the only country they’ve ever known, Vargas said the Dreamers have followed King’s example.
Washington’s community college presidents previously called on federal officials to continue the program. The letter was signed by CBC’s then-President Rich Cummins.
While not specifically talking about DACA, the college’s new president, Rebekah Woods, told the crowd the college would accept all people who wanted to learn.
She stressed the importance of knowledge using a quote from King’s letter from the Birmingham jail.
In the letter, King wrote an uneducated moderate is more dangerous to the Civil Rights cause than an actively hateful person.
“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will,” King wrote.
King fought for equal access to education for everyone and, with education, people could pursue opportunities they may not have otherwise, Woods said.
Also Monday, Elouise Sparks was honored for her commitment to positive social change with the 2018 winner of Columbia Basin College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award.