VCU “Dreamers” fear deportation awaiting Trump DACA decision

President Donald Trump is set to announce whether the DACA program will stay or go Tuesday, after he initially promised to end it. These “Dreamers”, along with advocates around the country, are apprehensive about what’s to come.

Fadel Allassan Contributing Writer

Photo by Erin Edgerton – The Commonwealth Times.

Meet the “Dreamers,”

You can imagine it’s hard to forget illegally crossing the United States/Mexico border.

For VCU sophomore Nicte Diaz Cortes, the memory of being in the back seat of a small car with forged documents and two nuns pretending to take her to an orphanage is obscured, but by no means forgotten.

At three years old, she was oblivious to what was going on, but crying nonetheless. She had been shedding tears since she’d boarded a plane from Mexico City to near the border to drive past the frontier into California. This was the journey that her parents believed promised to give their family a better life.

“I just thought of it as moving when I was a lot younger. I didn’t think of crossing the border in terms of how people see it now,” Diaz Cortes said. “It didn’t strike me as that until I was in like middle school.”

In the fall of 2016, Diaz Cortes started school at VCU, where she met Haziel Andrade-Ayala, a sophomore with a similar story.

Andrade-Ayala was three years old when her aunt encouraged her parents to let her take their child to the United States on a tourist visa, which they would overstay, from their native Bolivia, which was mired in an economic crisis after a 1998 crash.

Photo by Brooke Marsh, the Commonwealth Times
Photo by Brooke Marsh – The Commonwealth Times

The pair are “Dreamers,” a term used to describe a generation of young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and who, in many cases, identify as American. The term is derived from the DREAM Act, a proposal which failed to pass Congress five times between 2001 and 2011.

In 2012, President Barack Obama took matters into his own hands when he announced his administration would not deport undocumented immigrants who matched the criteria of the previously proposed DREAM Acts. A month later, Obama introduced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, letting undocumented immigrants apply for protection from deportation and for work permits if they fall under the following criteria:

  • Arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday
  • Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007
  • Are currently in school or have a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States
  • Have not been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors

The program sought avenues for young undocumented immigrants to further assimilate to an American lifestyle. For the first time, they had a safeguard against deportation, often allowing them to travel, get a driver’s license or apply for college, without fear of tipping off immigration services.

More than 1.2 million immigrants are eligible for DACA in the U.S. — 740,000 of which were already approved for protections by 2016, according to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services.

Cortes Diaz, Andrade-Ayala and a number of other VCU students are part of the more than 25,000 who are protected in Virginia under the program.

Those immigrants are now waiting for President Donald Trump, who campaigned on rescinding DACA, to make a decision on whether he will follow through.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president will announce his intention Tuesday.


“We’re looking at it with great heart”: Trump to announce decision amid political and legal pressure

On June 16, 2015, Donald Trump descended from an escalator and into the lobby of his Manhattan tower to announce the launch of his campaign for president in the 2016 election. With deprecating remarks about Mexican immigrants, Trump set the tone for what would be a theme in his White House bid — a focus on illegal immigration.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best …” Trump said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump made a habit of lambasting President Obama’s policies on immigration during the eight-month campaign, often saying Obama did not have the authority to use executive action to sign DACA or DAPA, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, a now-stalled Obama-era initiative which protected undocumented parents of children born to U.S. citizenship.

Trump promised in multiple campaign rallies the laws would be rescinded “immediately” under his presidency.

Less than a week after Trump’s inauguration, VCU President Michael Rao appeared to support DACA in his annual address to the university, saying “who we support as a university says the most about who we are as a university.”

An email sent to students and faculty the by the Office of the President the next day was less ambiguous.

“President Rao and his senior leadership team fully support the federal DACA program and our students who are enrolled at VCU under guidelines approved by the state Attorney General,” the email read. “All of our students contribute uniquely to the fabric of this community and deserve the opportunity to engage in educational pursuits that advance their careers, their families and our society.”

Rao signed the Pomona statement, joining more than 600 university and college presidents advocating for DACA to be upheld and said the university would “consider the legality and appropriateness of university action” to protect DACA students.

But Trump softened his stance on the program after the election. DACA recipients “shouldn’t be very worried,” he said in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd.

“DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me,” Trump said in a February press conference. “We’re going to deal with DACA with heart.”

Photo by Brooke Marsh, the Commonwealth Times
Photo by Brooke Marsh – The Commonwealth Times

On June 15, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo rescinding the DAPA program. In a FAQ posted on the DHS website the same day, the department made it clear DACA would remain untouched by the memo and people could continue applying for DACA protections and extensions.

The move ended DAPA before it started. The Obama Administration had never implemented the measure due to a court injunction. It was seen as grandstanding by hard-line anti-immigration Republicans after a campaign in which Trump had not only talked the most anti-immigration rhetoric of all candidates, but specifically promised to remove DACA.

Less than a month later, Trump began to suffer blowback for not rescinding DACA. Ten Republican State Attorneys General, led by Texas AG Ken Paxton, threatened a lawsuit on the basis the president had no authority to protect people from deportation if Trump did not rescind DACA by Sept. 5 of this year.

Last Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president would announce his decision Tuesday, the deadline given to him by the Republican Attorneys General.


Living undocumented

Despite immigrating to the U.S. at age three, Andrade-Ayala didn’t know she was undocumented until middle school.

Her older sister watched on with confusion as her peers got driver’s licenses and applied for college and her parents urged her not to do the same, until they broke the news — They were in the country illegally.

“I didn’t know what it meant at the time, it didn’t impact me until high school,” Andrade-Ayala said.

A harrowing experience during her sophomore year of high school forced Andrade-Ayala to understand the reality of her status.

On a summer night in May of 2012, her father was detained by Arlington Police for expired tags. He was handed over to the custody of Immigrations Customs Enforcement agents, who detained him in Farmville for a month.

After two years of legal battle, political pressure and an online petition by created by Haziel’s sister, Hareth, ICE decided to close her father’s case. The experience was distressing for Haziel.

Photo by Erin Edgerton – The Commonwealth Times

“It was not even coming from shame. It was just a place of detachment. It’s not that I didn’t care, it was just too much,” Andrade-Ayala said. “I felt very depressed.”

For undocumented immigrants, the fragility of residency in the United States — knowing you could be deported at any time — is a weight on the shoulders, Diaz Cortes said. That, and coming to terms with the fact that many in this country have hostile feelings toward those who came here illegally.

“I grew up listening to the news, when they started describing us as vermin. It was then that I felt shame and a little bit of fear because I realized that’s what I am to them,” Diaz Cortes said. “They don’t want me here. It’s really weird thinking that you’re not wanted in the only place you know as home despite all the love and connection I feel to it.”

Diaz Cortes and Andrade-Ayala said they took a risk by giving the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services their private information when they applied to receive DACA five years ago. One they hope doesn’t come back to haunt them.

“Under this current administration, I feel like he could take advantage of the fact that there’s information on people like us out there,” Diaz Cortes said.

The women fear returning to their respective birth countries, but understand this is just one of the possibilities that hinge on what the president announces Tuesday.

“At this point, the U.S. is what I know,” Andrade-Ayala said. “Bolivia is where I’m from.”

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