A political disagreement on immigration reform ahead of a federal funding deadline has a group of VCU students on edge and lawmakers scrambling to reopen the government.
The government shut down Saturday when lawmakers in Congress failed to reach an agreement on protection of a group of people brought to the United States illegally at a young age, affectionately known as Dreamers.
Dreamers are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program established in 2012, which allowed undocumented immigrants under the age of 16 to come out of the shadows and receive benefits including Medicaid, driver’s licenses and enrollment in college with in-state tuition.
VCU stated their support of its DACA recipients Sep. 5 when the Trump Administration made the decision to rescind the program in March 2018. Fifty-eight VCU students are among the more than 12,000 young people protected by DACA in Virginia.
In last week’s negotiations, President Trump demanded significant funding for border security in exchange for protection for DACA recipients. For the shutdown to end, Trump will have to negotiate a deal with Democrats or agree to a deal made by congressional leaders.
Jessica Moreno-Caycho, co-president of Political Latinx United for Movement and Action in Society at VCU or PLUMAS, seeks to unite and enact social action for Latinx students. She is undocumented and a recipient of DACA. She has lived in the United States for almost 15 years after arriving from Peru when she was 8 years old.
Moreno-Caycho is is an advocate for the latinx community because of the adversity she has faced in the institutions and policy present in the country she knows as home. But she is also an advocate because she has no choice but to be.
“It’s just about being involved with the community and really fighting back and being aware of how laws and policies affect us, because people like to romanticize the quote on quote Dreamers narrative, but it’s nothing to romanticize to have to work five times harder than your peers just to have the same opportunities, Moreno-Caycho said. “Personally, I am involved because there is absolutely no way for me not to be involved one way or another.”
Moreno-Caycho said she does not stand behind any legislation that puts any undocumented immigrants at greater risk for deportation
“I’m not going to stand behind something that is only going to protect us but put our entire communities at risk,” Moreno-Caycho said. “So I’m for a clean Dream Act, something that’s not going to increase border security, it’s not going to fund a wall, it’s not going to keep funding ICE that targets anybody that is brown or black.”
Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, an advocacy organization that educates and organizes political action, is taking action on immigration. Welcoming All Coordinator Lana Heath de Martinez, who oversees the organization’s immigration policy, said they are calling on Sen. Mark Warner to support the Dream Act, a congressional bill that would grant legal status to certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
However, activists in the immigrant community are asking the organization not to support an agreement that would put family members at risk.
“It does have pretty broad ramifications because of some of the earlier executive orders put forth by the administration. Basically, it opens up interior enforcement. If they’re saying border security, that could actually apply to anywhere in the United States,” Martinez said. “Nobody would say that the negotiations right now look good for immigrants. We would say we need something to hold us over so we can continue to fight another day.”
PLUMAS remains in contact with the university about what support is needed in the event student’s DACA expires. President Michael Rao has promised the university will not release any information to the public about undocumented students’ status, in compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.
PLUMAS continues to pressure the university to support Virginia legislation that would protect undocumented immigrants. As a federal agreement on DACA and it’s fallout remain up in the air, the Virginia General Assembly is addressing immigration issues in their upcoming session. PLUMAS is attending meetings for SB 810 and HB 343, mirrored bills that will grant tuition equity for all Virginians, regardless of immigration status. Less broad, HB 11 would allow only DACA recipients to receive in-state tuition.
Undocumented students are at risk of losing their in-state tuition when the legislation expires.
“We’re really hoping we can get their full support on something that has also been approved by undocumented students,” Caycho said. “HB 343 is the first time that tuition equity bill, all the language of it has actually been approved by undocumented students themselves.”
SaraRose Martin, News Editor