President Trump, through Attorney General Jeff Sessions, announced his plans to end the Deferred Action to Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, giving congress six months to propose a replacement.
The program protected some of the 800,000 people brought illegally to the United States as children. Former President Barack Obama enacted DACA in 2012, after the DREAM Act bill, which would have provided undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, failed to receive sufficient votes from the House of Representatives.
Texas holds the second-largest population of DACA eligible immigrants in the United States with 271,000; Bexar County has a DACA-eligible population of 13,195, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
“DACA recipients are our students and our employees, our family members and our neighbors,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement last week. “They contribute to our country as taxpaying neighbors, and their innovative ideas, hard work and dedication are the foundation of a strong community.”
UT Chancellor William McRaven issued a statement responding to DACA’s rescinding on September 5 via the University of Texas System website, addressing UT System DACA students directly. “You can be certain of our support as you continue to pursue your dreams–the American dream–to obtain an education and build a better future for you and your families,” Mcraven said. “As UT adheres to federal and state laws regarding immigration, rest assured our campuses will remain places where you can safely study as Congress takes up this issue.”
UTSA President Taylor Eighmy also gave support for students, offering a contact for students with DACA-related concerns. “As a community we must do everything we can to help our fellow Roadrunners in their time of need,” Eighmy said. “If you know Dreamer students, now is the time to give them emotional support during all the uncertainty and fear they will face in the months to come.
“They will need their friends and faculty/staff mentors now more than ever.”
Andrea Fernandez, senior public policy major, is currently protected under DACA. She moved to the United States at nine years old from Mexico City with her family, who were able to establish themselves under a visitor’s visa. After her father was stabbed and robbed while hailing a taxi, and several financial issues, her family made the decision to leave Mexico.
“I was given opportunities that I didn’t have before,” Fernandez said. “But I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone my situation because I was afraid I was going to be judged.”
Currently a fellow with MoveSA and leader of an on-campus student DACA group, Fernandez speaks at rallies, organizes “Know Your Rights” workshops and advocates for immigration law reform across San Antonio.
“We’re here to educate people on the issue,” she said. “This can stop being a party issue if more people knew the facts.”
Fernandez is worried about her future and the future of other DACA students, citing the congressional impasse that forced then-President Obama to sign DACA into law.
“I have no pathway to citizenship,” Fernandez said. “I’m worried that I won’t be able to graduate or contribute to society in the way I was hoping to.”
Undocumented students are protected under DACA if there is no feasible way to obtain citizenship, meaning Fernandez, who plans to graduate in December 2018, would lose her DACA protections on August 31, 2018 if Congress does not replace the bill.
Eliz Castillo, sophomore pre-business major, is also a DACA student. She came to the United States at five years old from Mexico, and has not returned since. `
“When I first learned of President Trump’s plans of ending DACA, I was not surprised, but I was very upset,” Castillo said. “All the DACA recipients have made the United States our home, and we have repeatedly proven that we are no threat or burden to this country.
“So many people get the wrong idea of DACA and see it as undocumented immigrants getting a free ride in this country. We all work extremely hard.”
Castillo also credits DACA as the reason for her success in the United States.
“I was undocumented until my freshman year of high school, when DACA was first introduced,” Castillo said. “DACA provided me with a temporary work visa that allowed me to get a driver’s license and start working. It also provided me with the opportunity to take dual-credit classes in high school to get ahead on my education.”
“Most importantly DACA relieved me of so much stress, and I could finally live a normal life.”
Castillo, along with many friends and family protected under DACA, have renewed their work visas for another two years. Still, she is fearful of returning to Mexico if Congress does not repeal DACA.
“My main concern with DACA ending is having to live in the shadows of my own home or move back to a country I am no longer familiar with,” Castillo said. “I would live life in fear once again, and there would be nothing I could continue doing here.”
RAICES Texas will be providing free legal service for DACA renewals on Sept. 23 at UTSA’s main campus.