- by Félix Pérez; image by Molly Adams
A sophomore at Duke University in North Carolina, Axel Herrera Ramos was busily tending to beginning-of-the-semester activities when the Trump administration made an announcement last week that Herrera Ramos had dreaded for months: President Trump said he would end the program that allowed students, educators, members of the armed services and other young people brought to the United States as infants or children to study and work without fear of deportation.
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Trump’s decision threw into uncertainty the future of 800,000 young immigrants who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created by President Obama in 2012. DACA enabled people who were brought to the United States before age 16 and had been living here since June 15, 2007, to apply for renewable two-year visas. Since 2012, those registered with DACA have been able to obtain drivers licenses, work and attend college, as well as pay income taxes.
Trump’s announcement, widely seen as a political gesture to his hard-line supporters, has been decried by educators, higher education leaders, clergy, business executives and Republican and Democratic elected officials alike.
For Herrera Ramos and his peers, the six-month window before DACA closes has added a heightened sense of urgency for a permanent legislative solution. Their objective is be free of fear to study, work and contribute to the only country most of them have ever known.
When asked what he expects if DACA comes to an end, Herrera Ramos paused, lowered his head, laughed and shook his head. He then said, “If Congress doesn’t act, we don’t know where we’ll go. Our life is here. Our families are here. Our education is here.”
Utah teacher and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García directed her ire at Trump for “stripping away” the protection provided by DACA to Dreamers. “These undocumented young people were brought here as children; they graduated from school and had no criminal record – young people who did not make the adult decision to come. They applied for and were granted protected status because of their special circumstances. DACA allowed them to go work; go to college or serve their country in the military.”
Eskelsen García, in prepared remarks delivered at a news conference where Herrera Ramos was her guest, said, “DACA is an unqualified success on every level. It’s humane. It’s just. It’s pumping billions into our economy to have these educated, hardworking, enthusiastic young people paying taxes and buying homes and working and studying and starting businesses.”
With the initial shock of Trump’s decision receding, Herrera Ramos, Eskelsen García, Dreamers and their allies across the country are focusing their energies on pushing Congress to pass quickly a legislative fix, the DREAM Act of 2017. The bipartisan bill provides a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and DREAMers.
An activist for immigrant student rights since high school, Herrera Ramos said, “We want Congress to listen to our stories, to hear our cries. They may not agree with how DACA was created, but they can change it for the better. All we need is a chance.”
For educators seeking resources to support their Dreamer students, click here.