Supporters of DACA rally at State House and JFK building

Rodrigo Valencia, 3, from Waltham, waved a flag as he was held by his mother, Vanessa, during a rally to support DACA in Boston.
Rodrigo Valencia, 3, from Waltham, waved a flag as he was held by his mother, Vanessa, during a rally to support DACA in Boston.(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

Activists rallied near the State House Saturday afternoon and marched to the John F. Kennedy Federal Building to demand protections for undocumented immigrants brought as children to the United States.

Chanting, “No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcome here,” and, “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” — Spanish for, “The people united will never be defeated” — about 500 protesters marched across Boston Common, packed sidewalks, and spilled into downtown streets carrying signs and banners.

“My dreams are not illegal,” read one placard. Others bore the messages, “Welcome refugees,” and “Illegal immigration started in 1492.”

Speakers, including several undocumented young people brought to the US as children, offered impassioned arguments in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as “DACA,” and other policies that would grant expanded rights to undocumented immigrants.


“This is not just about DACA,” said Cata Santiago, 20, a DACA recipient born in Mexico who now lives in East Boston. “This is not just about youth. . . . We . . . are not going back into the shadows.”

Santiago said her DACA eligibility will soon expire if federal law is not changed.

“We need permanent protection, something we don’t have to renew,” she said.

A diverse coalition of activist groups began planning Saturday’s protest before Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Sept. 5 announcement that the Trump administration would phase out the Obama-era DACA program, according to Matthew Andrews, an organizer with the Boston May Day Coalition.

The future of DACA — and of an estimated 800,000 young immigrants who rely on it — has become impossible to predict, as President Trump on Wednesday apparently shifted position and agreed to work with Congressional Democrats to protect DACA recipients from deportation.

At Saturday’s rally, supporters of immigrant protections demanded federal action.

DACA recipient Carlos Rojas Alvarez, 23, of East Boston, expressed outrage that Democrats and Republicans in Washington are, in his terms, meeting behind closed doors to decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants.


Rojas Alvarez said he came to the US from Colombia at 5, “carried by my mother.”

“People called me a ‘dreamer,’ ” Rojas Alvarez said, using a term often applied to undocumented young immigrants seeking permanent status. “My mom is the original dreamer.”

He said young immigrants would not accept a pathway to citizenship that excludes their parents and communities.

As speakers addressed the crowd, an inflatable white phantom with claw-hands loomed above them, bearing the message, “Hands off our kids. Save DACA.”

City Councilor Tito Jackson, who is running for mayor against incumbent Martin J. Walsh, told the protesters he had a message for President Trump, whom critics have accused of using divisive policies to pit groups against one another.

“You will not turn African-Americans and black people against our Latino brothers and sisters,” Jackson said of Trump.

Jackson went on to paraphrase a biblical passage from Leviticus.

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born,” he said. “Love them as your brothers and sisters, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

More than a dozen organizations co-sponsored the rally, including Veterans for Peace, the Latino Medical Student Association at Boston University, and local chapters of Black Lives Matter and the Democratic Socialists of America.

Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, addressed the crowd on behalf of many educators who participated.


“This isn’t just about welcoming our students and their families,” Madeloni said. “This is about taking steps to protect our students and their families.”

The march had a festive air as it moved down Washington Street, with members of the Somerville-based Second Line Brass Band playing Trombone Shorty’s “Hurricane Season.” Hundreds of shoppers and tourists stopped to watch and pulled out their smartphones.

Alisa Aronson, 57, of Cambridge, held a sign that read, “Dreamers: Good 4 America,” on one side and “Trump: Bad 4 America,” on the reverse.

“It’s outrageous,” Aronson said, “that almost 1 million young people who have been in this country since they were children should lose their rights to work and go to school and live in the US.”

Globe correspondent Jacob Carozza contributed to this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at