In the face of the possible impending termination of DACA, NU President Hank Bounds released a statement Sept. 5, 2017 in support of University of Nebraska “Dreamers.”
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is an Obama-era executive order that allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, or “Dreamers,” to apply for a temporary legal residency status for two years, along with a work permit and the opportunity to obtain a driver’s license.
Bounds promptly responded to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ statement that President Trump will sunset DACA, which protects 800,000 young undocumented immigrants within the UNO community and across the country.
“Today’s announcement changing the rules on DACA creates significant uncertainty for the hundreds of thousands of young people who have benefited from this program – including students at the University of Nebraska,” Bounds said. “These youth are hard-working, productive, valued members of our university community. They are exactly the kind of talented workers our economy needs.”
Congress has six months to enact a bill they haven’t been able to pass for 16 years: The Dream Act, which was first formulated in 2001.
Some hope this is an opportunity for Congress to finally pass an updated Dream Act. It would include many of the same protections under DACA, but also provide a path to permanent legal residency or citizenship – something DACA lacks.
“I’m hopeful, but I’m scared,” said UNO freshman and DACA recipient Jose Vazquez Renteria.
Without congressional action before the March 5 deadline, some Dreamers could be at risk of being deported.
“At this point, everything is up in the air,” said Nereida Rojas, a UNO alumna who is also a DACA recipient.
Sessions cited national job security and constitutional problems as reasons for the shutdown. Within days, 15 states, the District of Columbia, companies such as Amazon and Starbucks and the University of California have all opened lawsuits against the action.
Dreamers are allowed neither federal financial aid nor loans. Policies in the Nebraska Dreamers Act also bars them from receiving any scholarships or grants provided by the state from the University of Nebraska system.
“If they’re going to school here, they’re superstars as far as I’m concerned because they’re able to make it work!” said Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado.
Rojas is one of these “superstars.” She came to the United States when she was 6 years old, and is now a UNO graduate of the criminology and criminal justice programs and a DACA recipient.
“I did struggle a lot financially,” Rojas said about her first year at UNO, when she bounced between various friends and relatives’ homes and worked under-the-table jobs. This was before DACA was made available in the fall of 2012.
“[DACA] changed my life,” said Rojas.
Now an in-home family services consultant at Boys Town, Rojas believes she is living her version of the American Dream by “being able to go to school and have a career where I can help my community … and without DACA, I won’t be able to continue living it and others won’t get to experience it.”
Vazquez-Renteria immigrated to the United States without legal papers when he was 7 months old.
“We as children didn’t have a choice to cross [the border] with our parents,” Vazquez-Renteria said. “I’ve basically lived here my whole life.”
Rojas and Vazquez-Renteria both said they hope the community becomes more aware of what DACA is. Students have a chance to learn about DACA at an upcoming forum.
The Honors Student Association (HSA) is hosting an informational forum on Sept. 14 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Nebraska Room of the Milo Bail Student Center, led by Renata Valquier-Chavez, a second year representative of HSA and ASH Senator.
“It’s going to be a safe spot where people can ask questions, have discussion and learn more about [DACA] and to humanize this whole situation … I want to remind everyone that these are people we are talking about — not politics,” Valquier- Chavez said.
The event is open to people of any political affiliation or ideology.
When it comes to the idea of being deported, both Rojas and Vazquez Renteria share the same common feeling of fear.
Rojas stated, “I would like for people to know that we do belong in this country. We were raised here. This is the only home that we know.”