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DACA students face uncertainty as repeal deadline approaches

Following President Donald Trump's decision to repeal DACA, no new legislation has been passed against it


ASU public policy senior and DACA recipient Oscar Hernandez poses for a portrait in downtown Phoenix on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017.

ASU's over 260 DACA students are facing pressure from President Donald Trump's decision to repeal the Obama-era legislation that grants them legal protection from deportation.

Congress has until March 6, 2018 to pass legislation to protect DACA students before the act's protections expire.

These undocumented students were brought to the U.S. as children and protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act, a hallmark of the Obama administration.

The program grants undocumented immigrants who are brought into the U.S. as children the ability to legally stay in the country to work and study.

On Sept. 5, Trump called for the repeal of DACA and the enactment of replacement legislation within six months, affecting about 800,000 DACA recipients in the U.S.

DACA recipients whose two-year protection ends before March 5, 2018 were eligible to apply for renewal before Oct. 5, 2017.  Recipients whose protection ends March 6, 2018 or later were not eligible to reapply. Those who reapplied before the deadline and had their application approved received full two-year protection starting on their application date. 

Supporters and recipients of the DACA program are calling for a new version of the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that grants citizenship to recipients but is not attached to any other strict immigration laws, such as increased border security or detention centers, according to the National Immigration Law Center.

This new legislation, referred to as a "clean DREAM Act," would create a new pathway for young undocumented immigrants to become U.S. citizens.

“I was finally given a shot of reaching an American dream.”

Oscar Hernandez, a public policy senior, and Edder Martinez, journalism senior, have both lived in the U.S. for the majority of their lives. Both are DACA recipients. 

Both have jobs and pay taxes. 

If undocumented workers were to be legalized in Arizona, total wages would increase by $1.8 billion, tax revenue would increase by $540 million, and 39,000 more jobs would be created, according to a 2012 study by the Center for American Progress.

Hernandez said DACA gave him the chance to live his life without fear.

"DACA is liberation where you can actually pursue the things you want,” Hernandez said. 

For most young undocumented immigrants, DACA is more than a policy or stack of paperwork, it’s life-changing, Hernandez said.

"DACA is a lot more than just 'Oh, I can work now and possibly get in-state tuition,’” he said. “The announcement that it was going to be rescinded, it was hard.”

Hernandez said he, like many other DACA recipients, followed the instructions and guidelines required to apply for DACA protection before the deadline. 

Many DACA recipients work to get degrees and benefit their community and the economy, but Hernandez said those contributions aren’t good enough for politicians who want to end DACA.

Hernandez said President Donald Trump’s decision to repeal DACA dehumanizes its recipients.

“I was finally given a shot of reaching an American dream and feeling like I was somewhat accepted as what I perceived myself to be, which is an American,” he said. “That's all been taken away, not even because of my own wrongdoing. It's all about politics.”

Living in fear

Jocelyn Lopez, a biological sciences freshman in Barrett, the Honors College, has lived in the U.S. since she was a year old.

She said applying to college made her realize that her legal status was going to affect her life forever.

“I didn’t know the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or ‘non-citizen’ until I started applying to college, when I knew I wouldn’t get any federal aid," she said. "When I knew I couldn’t even travel outside of Arizona without the possibility of getting deported.”

Lopez said the constant uneasiness and paranoia her parents had was the worst part of growing up.

“It’s just weird living in fear all the time,” she said. “That’s how it is living with DACA here.”

Edder Martinez said life before DACA was difficult. The program allowed him to get a job and benefit from lower tuition, giving him more opportunities, he said.

“I was able to overcome the barriers in my life with that program,” he said. “The ability to provide for my family and get an education has transformed my life."

Martinez said he was disappointed when the Trump administration announced a plan to repeal DACA because its recipients contribute to the country and see the U.S as their home.

“It doesn't make sense economically and morally to take away the livelihoods of almost a million people who have no other home than the United States,” he said. 

Political motivations

Isela Blanc, a state representative for Legislative District 26 in Arizona, came to the U.S. on a visa when she was 6 years old. Her visa expired, and she was undocumented from the ages of 7 to 15.

"When I was a child, I never felt that the state government, local government and local police department were out to get us," Blanc said.

Blanc also said representatives and senators may be hesitant to pass a new version of the DREAM Act due to the upcoming midterm elections. 

“(Politicians are) saying 'How does this legislation impact my outcome in the 2018 election?' It's not taking into account the human impact,”  Blanc said. “It's taking into account their political motivations and long-term standing as a politician.”

Blanc said she would not be here if it weren't for the bill that gave her a clear path to citizenship. She hopes to see the same for current DACA recipients.

"I am sitting here as an elected official because 31 years ago, President Ronald Reagan was able to pass bipartisan legislation that allowed me a path to citizenship,” she said.

In 1986, the Reagan administration passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act which allowed undocumented immigrants to apply and gain citizenship if they met certain requirements. 

Blanc said immigrants have an important role in the foundation of American society and have held this role throughout history.

“As a nation of immigrants, we are where we're at because of our innovation and our drive as immigrants,” she said. “Now we're taking steps backwards.”

Pathway to citizenship

Maurice "Mo" Goldman is an immigration lawyer who defends DACA recipients in Tucson, Arizona.

He said it’s important to DACA recipients that a “clean DREAM Act” is passed, one that is not attached to other strict immigration legislation.

"Ideally, a clean DREAM Act is not tied to a border wall or border security — that would be best,” Goldman said. “There has to be strong negotiations that go on between those who are more inclined to protect DREAMers and those who want border security.”

A DREAM Act was first introduced in the Senate in 2001 and has appeared in proposed legislation several times since then, according to The New York Times.

Until a decision is reached, DACA recipients all around the country are advocating for their future and a DREAM Act passage before Congress takes recess on Dec. 8. 

Both Oscar Hernandez and Edder Martinez went to Washington, D.C. with members of the ASU organization Undocumented Students for Education Equity (USEE). During the trip, the group campaigned with thousands of other DACA recipients, allies and activists for a clean DREAM Act.

"A clean DREAM Act gives us a pathway to citizenship,” Hernandez said. “We aren't asking for an immediate path. We understand it's a process. We are willing to work with that.”

Martinez said politicians should "stop playing politics with DREAMers' lives," Hernandez agreed.

“What we aren't willing to work with is a DREAM Act being used as a political tool to tag along some deal to expand the wall or increase the number of (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents,” Hernandez said.

A University plan

In a meeting with The State Press editorial board on Oct. 24, ASU President Michael Crow said the University will continue to support DACA recipients at ASU despite President Donald Trump’s decision to terminate the program.

“Congress has got to get its act together and consider the fate of these young adults who came here as children who are not responsible for the actions of their parents,” Crow said.

The University will continue to advocate for DACA and for the DREAM Act, but focus its energy on the students affected, Crow said. 

ASU is implementing a five-step action plan that outlines the initiatives the University is taking to aid DACA students. Such initiatives include working with Congress, providing legal advice, speaking with donors and more.

“We’re continuing to lobby with all the energy that we have towards that and while also trying to take care of the students that we have,” Crow said. “We are engaged in trying to ensure their path to graduation success.”

Edder Martinez had a different take on ASU's efforts regarding DACA. He said that even though the University has been working to provide relief for undocumented students, it could be doing more.

“ASU has been good,” Martinez said. “Some of us are frustrated because they've been on the reactive side instead of the proactive side.”

Lopez said that if DACA were to be fully rescinded, her dreams of graduating college would disappear. 

Lopez said she is most concerned about the spike in tuition and how it could alter her life.

“I would definitely drop out of University because my parents can’t pay that, I can’t pay that,” she said. “I’m not sure what I would do without DACA.”

For Lopez, graduating college means being the first in her family to do so. More importantly, it means making her family proud.

“I think it’s more of making them proud too," she said. "That all their sacrifices were meant for something, worth it."

Reach the reporters at Kimberly.Rapanut@asu and or follow @kimrapanut and @rhoodofficial on Twitter.

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